The symbolic head of the Anglican Communion worldwide, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called for fairness and justice for all communities in Pakistan, as he arrived in Pakistan on a three-day visit on Saturday.
“The reason I come here is to show that we remember and care for all the Christians in Pakistan. In November, I spoke with Pope Francis in the Vatican for the need of fairness and justice for all groups within this country at all times. May this be seen in every province, town and village and at the grassroots to the highest level amongst all people,” Archbishop Welby said.
He was addressing a reception hosted in his honour by Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Dr Azad Marshall at the Diocese of Raiwind head office. Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar was the Guest of Honour on the occasion.
Archbishop Welby said that the United Kingdom had become a better country because of the “so-called minorities” who settled there in the last 60-70 years.
“Today people from different faith backgrounds have grown and even risen to senior positions in the British government. We would like to see religious minorities getting the same opportunities in Pakistan,” he said.
The leader of the Church of England strongly condemned the Russian military aggression against Ukraine, saying the ultimate sufferers of any war were women and children.
“In northern Europe for the first time since 1945, two great armies are fighting. Thousands of people are fleeing their homes. Thousands have been killed. Those are Christians fighting Christians. That is as great a tragedy as you can imagine. And I know many of you, when you see Muslims fighting Muslims, our hearts break because it’s wrong. We pray for peace in Ukraine, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Bishop Marshall said that Britain has set an example of tolerance and accepting people from other faiths and communities.
“Like our Governor was in British parliament, his son is in parliament and he has been elected there by the local people of Scotland and England. We are very grateful, we would like to see this kind of friendship and fraternity… and we dream that this will happen one day in our country as well,” he said.
In his address, Governor Sarwar praised church leaders for promoting interfaith harmony.
“Christians are rendering remarkable services in all walks of life. Their work for charity, development and social uplift in Pakistan has helped us in reaching out to the poorest of the poor. Through healthcare, they clean the wounds of tribal people where no one goes,” he said.
“This journey of friendship will build new bridges of hope and relationships. My doors are always open for my Christian brothers. There are issues we believe that must be addressed. We have zero tolerance for discrimination. The government is in the process of returning two nationalised missionary schools of Lahore. I personally believe that the church managed educational institutions much better than the Punjab education department,” he said.
The governor said that real democracy in Pakistan will come when I see my Christian brothers and sisters winning the elections on party tickets for main constituencies.
Other speakers lauded the Archbishop of Canterbury for condemning hatred for Muslims and respecting faiths of others.
Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Interfaith Harmony Maulana Tahir Ashrafi said the Archbishop of Canterbury was respected across the world for promoting interfaith peace and harmony.
Ashrafi lauded Bishop Azad for inviting the Archbishop to visit Pakistan. He said Welby’s visit was warmly welcomed by the top civil and military leaders of the country, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa.
“Christians are our brothers and this brotherhood will continue,” he said.
Earlier, Archbishop Welby laid the foundation stone of the St. Thomas House for the Synod of Church of Pakistan in presence of the bishops of the Church of Pakistan. Other prominent guests included Punjab Minister for Minorities Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Ejaz Alam Augustine, Senator Kamran Michael, former principal of the Aitchison College and eminent historian F.S. Aijazuddin, civil society leaders and members of the church.
Archbishop Welby will also visit the family of lay leader William Siraj who was killed in a terror attack in Peshawar on January 30. He is also expected to meet with PM Imran, President Arif Alvi and Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa during his visit.