ROME – Pakistani Cardinal Joseph Coutts believes that the “duplicity, the hypocrisy,” of the United Sates and the European Union has had an impact on the persecution of Christians in the region, as extremists equate the two and blame them for the conflicts in in Iraq, Afghanistan and other territories.
Speaking with Crux in Rome on Monday, the archbishop emeritus of Karachi also delved into the recently launched two-year synodal process that began on Oct. 10. The prelate sits in the commission that is organizing it.
Due to length, the interview Coutts is being published in two parts. The first one, dealing with a recent rejection by Pakistan’s parliament to pass a bill banning forced conversions, can be found here.
Crux: What did you think about the opening of the Synod?
Coutts: Well, I mean, the event itself, is really something it’s unique. Is the first time I think in the Catholic Church, we’re having something like this, when you consider that it includes the whole Universal Church. And the following Sunday, yesterday, it was to be opened in each diocese throughout the world. And I remember the words of Pope Francis … we had had an informal meeting with him … where he said “we are like a small child, we’re just learning to walk.”
Because this is the first time of course, and therefore there are a lot of questions, a lot of doubts, a lot of criticisms. But I think the very concept is very important. Because what I think Pope Francis is doing is he’s breaking away from that pyramidal Church structure, and this thing of getting all the faithful involved. And therefore, this is not called a Synod of Bishops. Normally, we’ve been saying Synod of Bishops. You remember, we already had a Synod for the youth. The bishops were present, but the youth were well represented. And I was I was in that Synod. I was present there, too. And then we had a special Synod, only for the Amazon because of the peculiarity that the special circumstances of the people in the Amazon area. And now this is just referred to as the Synod. Is the Synod for all the baptized? Of course, you know, practically, how do we do this? That difficulty will remain.
How will you do it in your archdiocese?
I offered the pope my resignation last year, and in April, I handed over to my successor the reins, so I’m relieved of that burden of carrying the staff and wearing the miter. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not involved in some way.
In Pakistan there are only seven dioceses, but I’ve received reports via email that they had prepared well. But our situation and circumstances are very different: We are a rather young Church, historically speaking, not more than 200 years old. We still have a number of foreign missionaries with us, and we still have quite a high percentage of illiteracy, something like 45 percent illiterate. In addition, our population of 200 million is a spread out over a large country, with most living in rural areas. And things are changing, no doubt: Even the farmer driving his oxen to plow the land will probably have a mobile phone in his pocket. So, it’s a challenge, how do we reach those people. I think we got off to a good start, but we have to continue working on it.
And I was a little confused in the beginning regarding what the topic of the Synod was, but then I understood Pope Francis’s idea of making synodality the way for the Church going forward. He wants to bring the whole Church into a new way of being Church. In Asia, we have the federation of Asian bishops’ conferences. Already 20 or 25 years ago, we were talking about the participatory Church, that we have to involve the laypeople again, modeled on what the documents of the Second Vatican Council say. And we went into it very strongly, I was in that commission to promote this way of being Church. In our country it didn’t work very well, because I think we ourselves, the priests, also, and the bishops, needed a lot of motivation in trying to gear ourselves to see a church that’s functioning. We had the same words: Participation, mission and solidarity with each other.
And I remember the slogan was, the worldwide Church is really a communion of communities. You know, what was called basic ecclesial communities came close to the idea of synodality. And here we are, on a new path, how well it will work out, only the Holy Spirit knows.
Is there anything else that Crux’ readers need to know about what’s going on in your country?
We are now struggling because this present government has come up with a “uniform curriculum” because as I said, we have four provinces, and there was a difference in the curriculum being taught. As we’re going through it, we have found that it’s not the kind of curriculum that is preparing the future generation to live in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. Because what we have been experiencing overall in Pakistan in the last one or two decades is an increasing move for Islamization. The idea is to promote Islam, but at the cost of neglecting the history of Hinduism and others who’ve been in the country since long before the 8th century.
We have a number of Hindus more or less equal in number with Christians, but from some Muslims, Christianity has a negative shade.
They see us as the devil, the product of colonialism. If anything happens in the West, for instance, God forbid, a blasphemy case somewhere, we were on pins and needles, because one more church to be attacked, a few more Christians will be brutally killed.
Yeah, because whatever we do in the West, you pay for it there…
Exactly, because they see us Christians as connected, and believe that we don’t belong there. But we’re not migrants, mind you. We belong to the country as much as the Muslims and the Hindus and everybody else. And [Pakistan’s] founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru, and who worked alongside them initially during the freedom struggle against British immediately after the Second World War. And Jinnah made a beautiful speech, during the first session of the first parliament: We are now free, you are free. You’re free to go to your mosques, to your temples, or any place of worship. What you believe has nothing to do with the state. You must now all learn to be Pakistanis. Pakistan too was a new word, there’s no language called Pakistani.
Are you still trying to learn to be Pakistanis?
We are still trying to learn, because as I said, the country is young. We have a lot of freedom, and of course, there are problems: What kind of freedom is this, if they can kidnap our daughters, and our sisters. And there are other problems too. But those who attack our churches are not the common people, but the fanatics.
If you come visit Pakistan, you get off at the airport and ask the taxi driver to take you to a Church, he will. And it’s public, and visible, not like in Turkey.
And as a woman, I won’t be beaten for the fact that I’m not covering my hair?
No, no, no, they know you’re a visitor. But if you wear tight jeans, that’s different, we will all look at you for that, because that’s our culture.
Yeah, not wearing tight jeans actually works in my favor …
And you’ll find that in Pakistan too, in certain posh areas, with people who’ve traveled abroad. But if you get one of these Muslims [with the long beard] they may even spit at you, say you’re following the West. If you come to Pakistan, you will find a bit of everything: The good, the bad, the ugly.
But now, even the most moderate Muslims are becoming more Islamic, taking the cue from Saudi Arabia, since we get a lot of money from them.
And for what I understood, they’re taking their time, they’re doing it through education, not violently trying to impose this Islamization …
And what is also making it bad for us is again, the duplicity, the hypocrisy of the United States. For them [extremists] the United States, European Union, all the Western countries or let’s say the white people, are Christians.
I’m a parish priest, that’s what I will compare an Imam to. And on Fridays, when they deliver their sermons, they say, “young Muslim men arise, it’s time for a holy war. Look at what those Christians are doing to us.” And who is “us” for them? The Muslims. They argue that “them” attacked Iraq, a Muslim country. They see their homes destroyed, people crying on TV, so the Imams tell the young people that they must get angry too. And they might be moderate Muslim, but when they see and hear that, they get angry. And then the Imam says “look what they’re doing, helping those dirty Zionist, to oppress the poor Palestinians. They’re not giving them the land. And look what those idol worshipping Hindus are doing in Kashmir. They’re oppressing us.”
And after you angered these men, they’re willing to go join Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The first time a Church was attacked in Pakistan, was a week after the U.S. Marines began bombing Afghanistan with B52 bombers and tens of thousands of refugees began pouring across the border, women and children crying. Everyone was shocked. Two young men with automatic rifles burst into a church on a Sunday in Pakistan. It was the first time we ever had such an experience, Muslims going inside a church and just killing the people. We never had this before.
The Afghanis gave hell to the British in the 1800s, they gave hell to the Russians in 1981, and now to the NATO forces. But when the Soviet Union came, those who got alarmed were the Western countries. Have you heard of the Domino Theory? They said, Communism takes Afghanistan, and the next is Pakistan, and then they get an opening to the Arabian Sea, and then they’re not far from the Gulf, the source of the oil for the Western world. The goal was to stop the Communists, even if to do that they had to shake hands with the devil. Russia was still a superpower. America jumped in with its technology and the Saudi’s with their money, and our government too, because the Pakistan army trained the Taliban.
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States created the Taliban. And everybody is interested in Afghanistan. And the Americans came in 2001, thinking that through force they could solve everything, spent billions creating a National Army for Afghanistan, not understanding that this is a centuries-old tribal society, where the first loyalty of the young men you’re recruiting and paying is not some entity called the National Army but their tribe.
Afghanistan has still a long way to go, you cannot just push democracy down their throats.