JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog. Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.
This week: Pakistan
Youth catechesis in the Archdiocese of Lahore
By ACN International
Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
Well over half of Pakistan’s population, approximately 190 million, are aged 25 and under, while around 34% are under the age of 15. This very young demographic is reflected as much in the country’s Christian population.
Despite their numbers, Christian young people face many challenges and difficulties in this country with a 96% Muslim majority. They have very few opportunities of advancing socially, and are often discriminated against in state schools.
A study by the US State Department’s Commission on International Religious Freedom has recently found that only 60% of teachers in Pakistani state schools even believe that the members of the religious minorities are actually also Pakistani citizens. And even of those who do view them as citizens, many do not regard them as having equal rights with Pakistani Muslims: resulting in Christian pupils in Pakistani schools who are generally treated as second-class citizens, and ultimately also feel as such.
Moreover, the only religion taught in all classes from kindergarten to graduation – is Islam, a lament of many Church leaders. The curriculum is presented as though the country is intended only for Muslims, and even in nonreligious subjects Islam still plays a predominent part. For example, children are given essays to write with titles such as: “Write a letter to your friend, inviting him to convert to Islam.” Even in the teaching of mathematics and chemistry Islam still manages to intrude. History lessons do not metion the achievements of non-Muslims and furthermore, very often, the school textbooks themselves speak in a denigrating manner about non-Muslims. The Church has already appealed to the government to revise such school textbooks. And while there have been some small improvements, there is still a great deal to be done.
Christian pupils are still often being put under pressure to convert to Islam. Making it all the more important for Christian young people to learn to know and treasure their faith, and deepen it.
For this reason, since 1988, the Archdiocese of Lahore has been running special ongoing faith education programs for adolescents on the brink of adulthood who have already outgrown Sunday School. The focus of these programs is very much on the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments, but the pupils are also told about great Christian people who have played an important role in the history of their country – since these are aspects that are passed over in silence in the official state school curriculum.
The program has borne many good fruits, and indeed many former students have since become priests or religious, or committed and active lay members of the Church.
“Young people are our hope and our future”, writes the Franciscan Capuchin, Father Shahzad Khokher, who is responsible for the youth apostolate in the Lahore Archdiocese. ACN is helping again this year with a contribution of $15,000.