Around 75 percent of Pakistan’s Christians are rural Punjabi Christians, with the remainder including more affluent Goan Christians and Anglo-Indians. As Punjabi Christians are mainly Dalit Christians – descendants of lowercaste Hindus who converted during the colonial era in India—their dire socio-economic conditions facilitate religious discrimination; for example, it is estimated that Christians fill about 80% of the manual sewer cleaning jobs in the whole of Pakistan.
Christian missions in what is now Pakistan originated in the 16th century, proselytizing among Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. Until the partition of India in 1947, missionary activities were concentrated on Hindu Punjabis. Members of the church are mostly from lower income levels, often landless farm workers.
Surrounded by other Muslim and Hindu nations in a region of the world where religious and political tensions always run high, Pakistan is known for its volatile history. It is the only nation established in the name of Islam, and has been home to India’s Muslims since the independence of the subcontinent in 1947. With a population of 222 million, it is the sixth largest nation in the world. (FYI, the ranking starts with China and India’s near 1.4 billion each; the U.S. is 3rd at 300 million, followed by Indonesia, Brazil, and Pakistan.) Nearly 40% of the Pakistani people live below the poverty line, which measures not just wealth, but also health, education, and standard of living. These precious people need HOPE!
The Church of Pakistan is a united Protestant Church in Pakistan, which is part of the Anglican Communion and a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.
Establishment of the church
It was established in 1970 with a union of Anglicans (Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon), Scottish Presbyterians (Church of Scotland), United Methodists, and Lutherans. It is the only united Protestant Church in South Asia which involves Lutherans. The church has two theological seminaries: the Gujranwala Theological Seminary and St. Thomas’ Theological College, Karachi.
List of Dioceses
- Faisalabad (Bishop: John Samuel)
- Hyderabad (Bishop: Kaleem John)
- Karachi (Bishop: Seat Vacant)
- Lahore (Bishop: Irfan Jamil)
- Multan (Bishop: Leo Roderick Paul)
- Peshawar (Bishop: Humphrey Peters)
- Raiwind (Bishop: Azad Marshall)
- Sialkot (Bishop: Alwin John Samuel)
The Diocese of Sialkot is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Today, the whole Church of Pakistan is listed as a member on the WCRC website. The Sialkot Diocese has more than 40,400 members in 44 congregations and 28 house fellowships. It adheres to the Apostles Creed, Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Shorter Catechism and Nicene Creed. Moderators of the Synod have included Zahir-Ud-Din Mirza, Bishop of Faisalabad (1990–?). Immediately after the 1970 union, the Church had four dioceses: Multan, Lahore, Sialkot; in 1980, four more were created: Hyderabad, Raiwind, Faisalabad, Peshawar. In 2013, there were eight diocesan bishops plus an area bishop for the Gulf ministries (especially among Urdu-speakers) — an appointment in cooperation with the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, and the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.
Diocese of Raiwind
Diocese of Raiwind is one of the 8 Dioceses of the Church of Pakistan and came into being in 1980, 10 years after the Church Union in which Anglicans, Scottish Presbyterian, Lutherans and the Methodist amalgamated to form the Church of Pakistan. Diocese of Raiwind within its Episcopal jurisdiction comprises the former United Methodist Mission areas and is predominantly rural and semi-urban. The central diocesan office is in Lahore. The Diocesan area stretches out from Warris Road, almost 65 miles South of Lahore. Diocese of Raiwind has more than 26000 members in 38 congregations and six departments and 11 Schools. The main ministries of the Diocese are Pastoral Care, Village Schools, Sunday School Ministry, Peace Building, Hostel for poor children, Youth Empowerment, Women Empowerment, Special Education.
Catholic Church in Pakistan
The Catholic Church in Pakistan is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the pope in Rome. In 2018, there were 1,333,450 Catholics in Pakistan, which represents less than 1% of the total population. There are 7 ecclesiastical units in Pakistan comprising 2 archdioceses, 4 dioceses, and one Apostolic Vicariate, all Latin Rite.
There is anecdotal evidence that St. Thomas the Apostle passed through Taxila (in the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi) in his journey in India in the first century AD, where he is said to have established the community of Saint Thomas Christians on the Malabar Coast. A Saint Thomas Christian cross discovered in June 2020 made of marble and weighing more than three tons, about seven by six feet in size, was found in the mountains of Baltistan, in the northern areas of Pakistan. It is estimated to be more than 900 years old, possibly being the earliest physical evidence of a Christian presence in what is now Pakistan.
In 1745, the Bettiah Christian Mission, the northern Indian subcontinent’s oldest surviving Christian community, was established by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin under the patronage of King Dhurup Singh; the Hindustan Prefecture was raised in 1769 at Patna and later shifted to Agra, which was elevated to the status of a Vicariate in 1820. The Capuchins, through their Agra Diocese and Allahabad Diocese, established in the 1800s Catholic churches in colonial India‘s northern provinces including Rajasthan, UP, CP, Bihar and Punjab, the latter of which now includes Pakistan.
On 30 October 1945 in colonial India, the All India Conference of Indian Christians (AICIC) formed a joint committee with the Catholic Union of India to form a joint committee that passed a resolution in which, “in the future constitution of India, the profession, practice and propagation of religion should be guaranteed and that a change of religion should not involve any civil or political disability.” This joint committee enabled the Christians in India to stand united, and in front of the British Parliamentary Delegation “the committee members unanimously supported the move for independence and expressed complete confidence in the future of the community in India. The office for this joint committee was opened in Delhi, in which the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University M. Mariadas Ruthnaswamy served as president and B.L. Rallia Ram of Lahore served as General Secretary. Six members of the joint committee were elected to the Minorities Committee of
the Constituent Assembly of India. In its meeting on 16 April 1947 and 17 April 1947, the joint committee of the All India Conference of Indian Christians and All India Catholic Union prepared a 13-point memorandum that was sent to the Constituent Assembly, which asked for religious freedom for both organisations and individuals.
Following the partition of India, the Catholic Union of India granted independence to its branches in Sind and Baluchistan in its Second Annual General Meeting in Bangalore in October 1947, which was presided by Ruthnasamy.
The Catholic Church in Pakistan is active in education managing leading schools like Saint Patrick’s High School, Karachi, health and other social aspects of daily life in addition to its spiritual work. In 2008 the Catholic Church runs 534 schools, 53 hostels, 8 colleges, 7 technical institutes and 8 catechetical centers.
Joseph Cordeiro, Archbishop of Karachi, became the first Pakistani Cardinal, elevated to the position by Pope Paul VI on 5 March 1973.
Pope John Paul II visited Pakistan on 16 February 1981.
Pope John Paul II received the President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf in a private audience in the Vatican on 30 September 2004. In 2004 President Pervez Musharraf began hosting an annual Christmas dinner as an expression of seasonal goodwill.
For the first time in the country’s history, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, became the federal minister for minorities in 2008. Bhatti was assassinated on 2 March 2011.
Pope Benedict XVI met the Catholic bishops of Pakistan on 19 June 2008. The bishops were in Rome for their ad limina visit.
On 20 May 2018, Pope Francis announced he would make Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi a cardinal in the consistory scheduled for 29 June.
On February 11, 2021, Pope Francis accepted Coutts resignation and appointed Bishop Benny Mario Travas of Multan as the sixth Archbishop of Karachi.
List of Catholic provinces and dioceses in Pakistan
Ecclesiastical Province of Lahore
Archdiocese of Lahore
- Diocese of Faisalabad
- Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi
- Diocese of Multan
Ecclesiastical Province of Karachi
- Archdiocese of Karachi
- Diocese of Hyderabad
- Apostolic Prefecture of Quetta
Source: The Asian Catholic Church Directory
In 2020 the Church in Pakistan had grown to 173 diocesan priests and 134 priests who are members of religious orders.
The Catholic Church continues to be persecuted. As recently as April 2009 armed men attacked a group of Christians in Taiser Town, near Karachi. They set ablaze six Christian houses and injured three Christians, including an 11-year-old boy, who was in critical condition in the hospital.
In 2009, Pakistan was the only country in the world with a “blasphemy law”. The constitution also ensures that a non-Muslim cannot become president, prime minister or any of the 11 senior most government positions in the country.
On 30 July 2009, tensions arose in the Christian village of Korian after pages containing Islamic inscriptions were found in front of a Christian home. Muslims then accused a family there of blasphemy against Islam. On 1 August 2009, a Muslim mob raided a Christian settlement in Gojra vandalizing and looting houses and causing the deaths of eight people and injuries to many others. Fifty Christian homes were destroyed. Pope Benedict XVI expressed profound sorrow at recent anti-Christian riots in Pakistan and appealed to everyone to renounce violence and take up again the path of peace. He communicated this message in a telegram to Faisalabad Bishop Joseph
Coutts. St. Thomas’ Church, Wah Cantt, was attacked by a group of armed men on 28 March 2011 which resulted in damages. It is believed that the incident was related to the recent episode of the burning of the Quran by Pastor Terry Jones in the U.S.
The situation in Pakistan deteriorated to such an extent that by 2013 large numbers of Christians started to seek asylum overseas.
Over the years a number of Catholics have been recognized by the Government of Pakistan for their contribution to education, community service, health and public service.
In 1965 Brig. Mervyn Cardoza was honored with the Tamgha-e-Khidmat by President Ayub Khan.
Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat (1965) and Tamgha-i-Jurat (1971).
Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan from 1960 to 1968, was the recipient of Hilal-i-Pakistan in 1967.
Hermanegild Marcos Antonio Drago was honoured first with Tamgha-e-Pakistan in 1967 and then with the Sitara-e-Imtiaz posthumously in 2002 for his services for the betterment of the community.
Sister Ruth Pfau was perhaps the most decorated Catholic having received:
- 1969: Sitara i Quaid i Azam
- 2010 Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam for public service.
- Pfau was the first Christian and first non-Muslim to be given a state funeral in Pakistan.
Sister Gertrude Lemmens FMCK, in recognition of her work for the homeless, the needy and the handicapped, on 23 March 1989 received the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam (Order of the Great Leader), one of the highest honors given to foreign nationals.
In 1999 Major General Julian Peter was the recipient of the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military).
Father Francis Nadeem OFM Cap. a parish priest and author from Lahore, was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz on Independence Day, 15 August 2000, for outstanding service to the country.
Sister Mary Emily FC, on 23 March 2009, was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz which she received from the Governor of Sindh. This was in recognition of her services to education.
Sister John Berchmans Conway: on 15 February 2012, the President of Pakistan approved conferment of Sitara Quaid-e-Azam on Sister Berchmans for her services towards education and promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
Father Robert McCulloch – On 15 February 2012, the President of Pakistan approved conferment of Sitara Quaid-e-Azam on McCulloch for his services to Pakistan in health and education.
Brother Emmanuel Nicholas – The President of Pakistan conferred the civil award of Tamgha-iPakistan (Medal of Pakistan) on Bro. Emmanuel Nicholas in recognition of his outstanding and meritorious services to the education sector in Pakistan.
Norma Fernandes – The Government of Pakistan honoured Mrs. Fernandes on 23 March 2014 with the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz for her services to education.
Pakistan Bible Society – In 2013 Pakistan Post issued a commemorative postage stamp on the 150th anniversary of the Pakistan Bible Society.
Sister Mary Langan RJM, an Irish nun working in Pakistan since 1983, in 2013 was awarded the Tamgha-e-Quaid-e-Azam by the Government of Pakistan for her services in the field of education.
On 13 June 2020, Bishop Benny Mario Travas inaugurated the St. Peter’s CSS Academy in Multan. The Academy has been created to encourage and facilitate Catholics to appear for the Central Superior Services exams that lead to federal public service jobs. This is the first time a concerted effort has been made to promote Catholics into the public service.
On 14 August 2020, Sister Ruth Lewis was posthumously granted the civil award Sitara-i-Imtiaz for her Public Service. She worked at Darul Sukun for more than 50 years.
Some Well-Known Bishops of Pakistan
Bishop John Joseph John Joseph was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad from 1984–1998 and was best known for committing suicide to protest the cruel treatment of Christians in Pakistan.
Father John Joseph, the first local diocesan priest became the third bishop of Faisalabad. He wrote many books and worked mainly for Christian Muslim Dialogue. The struggle for repeal of Blasphemy law was his main interest.
Bishop Anthony Theodore Felix Lobo (4 July 1937 – 18 February 2013) earned degrees from the University of Karachi, Harvard University and The University of Paris. He was appointed the Auxiliary Bishop of Karachi by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and Bishop Islamabad–Rawalpindi in 1993. Bishop Lobo made important contributions to education in the country. He founded the illustrious St. Michael’s Convent School in Karachi. He has authored many books on education. Bishop Lobo also served in the following positions:
- Chairman, Education Commission of Pakistan
- Office of Education, Federation Of Asian Bishop’s Conference.
- Secretary General, Catholic Bishop Conference of Pakistan.
- Spiritual Director of the St. Vincent’s Home for the Aged, Karachi.
- Member of the board for Oasis magazine, Cairo, Egypt. The magazine focuses on the need for interreligious dialogue and peace.
- Member of Senate, Sindh University, Jamshoro.
- Member of Senate, Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur.
In recognition of his services to the cause of literature and education, the President of Pakistan conferred on him the Presidential Pride of Performance Award in 1990.
Bishop Patras Yusaf (29 July 1936-29 December 1998) was the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Multan from 1984 until his death in 1998.
He obtained a degree in moral theology in Rome in 1976, after which he taught at Christ the King Seminary in Karachi. He also wrote a book in the Urdu language on the Christian family. He made valuable intellectual contributions on the subject of theology and enculturation. He served as the national director of Caritas Pakistan from 1986 to 1998 during which time the numbers reached to millions of beneficiaries in their basic needs for economic and social development. As the National director of Caritas Pakistan and Bishop of Multan, he patronized a number of initiatives to improve quality of life for the rural communities. From opening of schools in the far-flung areas in Cholistan and Thal, to commissioning studies on subsistence and integrated farming, his quest for cultivating happiness for the common people manifested in a number of projects.
He was a farsighted person who cherished empowerment of the people through focusing upon development and women’s rights. Bishop Patras was particularly keen to groom youth and therefore he opened many schools and hostels in South Punjab.
In 1989 he also served on the Muslim Christian Dialogue and Major Seminary commissions of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan
Bishop Inayat Masih (1918-1980) hailed from Chak 424, a village near Gojra, Punjab . Bishop Inayat was the founder Moderator of the Church of Pakistan (1970) and the first Executive Secretary of National Council of Churches Pakistan.
He earned Masters of Oriental Language (three Masters in Persian, Urdu and Arabic) degrees. He led one of the foremost agitations against nationalization in Lahore and a delegation which negotiated with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.