Recently, I had the honour of meeting Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, the retired Archbishop of Lahore, Pakistan. I interviewed him for an article in an upcoming print issue of Catholic Insight Magazine. I was thrilled to spend time with such a gracious, patient gentleman. Given my absence of journalistic training, I was intimidated by his background as a newspaper editor and media producer but he was very accommodating and the hour I spent with him was informative and pleasant. He is an intelligent, soft-spoken man, very easy to talk to and full of anecdotes of life in Lahore, Pakistan.
We talked about the difficulties faced by Christians and other non-Muslim groups in Lahore; things, he said, that we in the Western world can’t imagine. He made a point of saying that most Muslims want to live in peace with the minority groups but are afraid to speak out against the relatively few, militant, violent extremists. Not only does violence exist against non-Muslims, but fighting between different Muslim groups such as Shi’ites and Sunnis is also prevalent.A small number of Christians convert to Islam, usually because of pressure to do so, but most Christians would rather die as Christians. Although they know that they can be killed, they continue to attend services and Holy Mass. They remain active in their faith communities and look to the Christian church as a source of consolation knowing that they live in constant danger because of their Christian faith.
I asked him what we can learn from the situation in Pakistan and other parts of the world where Christians suffer persecution. He replied that we ought to be more appreciative of our Christian faith. People in the West just go through the motions, he said. Don’t just go through the motions; we must really live our Faith. Volunteer. Get involved in our church communities. Stop complaining. Educate ourselves about what is going on in the rest of the world. He has observed that we have too much stuff and states that there is no need to have so many things. We need to live a simpler life.
Archbishop Saldanha has experienced things that most of us will never know. His life is a witness to his unshakeable belief in the One True God.
Instead of finding fault with our churches, pastors and each other; instead of thinking that we are more Christian than those other people, perhaps it’s time we all got down on our knees and thank God for putting up with us. Our persecuted brothers and sisters remain steadfast, fervent witnesses to the love of Christ Crucified. It’s time we follow their example.