30th September is the feast of Saint Jerome, doctor of the Church and translator of the Bible into Latin. To mark the feast, ACN spoke to Father Emmanuel Asi, executive director of the Catholic Bible Commission of Pakistan, about the scriptures and the situation of Christians in the country.

What is life like for Christians in Pakistan?

Pakistan is an Islamic Republic with a population of 230 million, 97 percent of which are Muslims. The remaining 3 percent are minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. The majority of the 1.5 million Christians are Catholic. Life is difficult for those who, like Christians, do not follow Islam. There is no religious freedom.

But surely the Constitution protects religious freedom?

On paper we are allowed to do everything, we have rights; but in practice, in politics, in social life, in academia, in the workplace, there is lots of discrimination and difficulties for our youth – especially those who want to study at university, or who are looking for work.

You can do whatever you like within the Church, you have full freedom for that. You can run your schools, your institutions, your parishes, your community, conduct any programme, print bibles and books.

But as soon as you go out into society, into the street, the office, the workplace, that is where the difficulties and discrimination begin.

How does the Church engage with other faiths?

Firstly, we host many seminars, and we invite many people from other religions. Recently we held a seminar on spirituality, and we had people from six different religions. Secondly, we work with university professors and students of Comparative Religious Studies. Thirdly, we have direct dialogue. We live side by side with other religions, day and night. We live with them, speak to them, they are welcomed into our homes, and we into theirs.

How does the Church promote the Bible in Pakistan?

Over the past 20 years, since the Catholic Bible Commission was founded, we have done much to bring the Word of God closer to the people, and the people closer to the Word of God. This is our mission.

People want to listen, they want to read God’s Word. We have a variety of programmes for people to participate in. For example, we have one called “Hundred Thousand Friends of the Bible”, with people from all over Pakistan who have their own Bible and like to read it for at least five minutes a day.

Last year, in November, we put audio readings of the Bible online for people who cannot read. That way people could listen to the Word of God. We also have the Bible for Children, and the YouCat Bible [for younger Christians], printed in Urdu, thanks to ACN. We have printed 70,000 Bibles.

We also have Bible Marathons in all our dioceses, with 2,000 participants around the country. Over a period of 127 hours the Bible is read out in full, non-stop, day and night. People have been every enthusiastic and spiritually touched by this programme.

And Fr Emmanuel had a message for ACN’s benefactors…

I would like to thank people from all over the world, people from ACN, and all those who provide us with financial aid, and who support us with your prayers. I ask them to keep helping, especially Pakistan.

In the name of our people: Please, keep helping us as much as you can! No matter how critical the situation, no matter how bitter the reality, we must keep our hope in God alive.

September 30, 2022 ▪ Father Asi interviewed by Carlos Rosas-Jiménez