Archbishop's Visit to Pakistan
Thursday 24th November 2005The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has begun an eight-day visit to Pakistan with a church service in Rawalpindi.
Speaking in Christ Church, Rawalpindi on Tuesday [22nd November 2005] Dr Williams told the congregation that their situation was similar to the boy whose loaves and fishes fed the five thousand (in John 6 v 5-14):
"For us, gathering as a small church in the middle of a society that is mostly not Christian, we think 'what can we do and what can we give?' We give our love, we give our compassion to those around us; we give our service and our witness: and the apostles of Jesus Christ say to us 'don't worry; give it to Jesus, he knows what to do with it.' "
"So however small the gifts we feel we are giving, however small the influence we may sometimes feel we may have, give what we have to Jesus and he knows what to do with it. This does not come without cost ... when we offer our service and compassion and step out from the crowd, we don't feel very safe .. but it is those acts of generosity where we take a step towards love and compassion, that is when Jesus can most use what we give."
"At a time when in this country when we are thinking of those great acts of reconciliation between communities, the challenge of Jesus is to step forward in reconciliation holding onto the vision of peace between different communities. That is very hard and very demanding."
Later, the Archbishop and Mrs Williams together with Bishop Michael Jackson and others had dinner with the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, which followed a private meeting.
On Wednesday 23rd November Dr Williams visited a tented village on the outskirts of Islamabad where victims displaced by the recent earthquake disaster are being temporarily sheltered. The complex, which holds nearly 10,000 refugees, has organised and coordinated relief efforts from the government together with those from a number of international NGOs and other organisations.
Following on from this visit, Dr Williams delivered a lecture to an audience of students and academics at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. His lecture, 'What is Christianity?' explained some of the core beliefs which Christians hold together with explanations of some beliefs that they do not, but which Muslims sometimes think that they do hold.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Shaukat Aziz, hosted a lunch for Dr Williams, which was followed by a brief press call.
Dr Williams returned to the university in the afternoon for a round-table discussion: 'Is inter Faith dialogue possible?' Dr Williams gave a brief informal presentation and then answered questions on dialogue from the delegates, who were academics, together with local Christian and Muslim leaders
He told the delegates that religious representatives needed to be clear about the terms of engagement:
"Dialogue is not debate; dialogue is not proselytism; dialogue is not the attempt to persuade; dialogue is not negotiation. When I enter dialogue with someone of another religious tradition ... I am not out to secure agreement, but to secure understanding. An honest and constructive dialogue leads us to go away thinking 'Now I begin to see a little better what it is like to hold those views, pray those prayers and to live those lives'.
"Dialogue is possible, dialogue is necessary and, happily, by the grace of God, dialogue is above all, actual. The very fact of our meeting this afternoon is, I hope and pray, a sign of how that dialogue can and will unfold in the years ahead."
Dr Williams outlined some of the thinking behind proposals for a Christian-Muslim Forum in the United Kingdom and spoke of the potential for agreements that seek to protect minority communities:
"Part of that is connected with the suggestion that local religious communities adopt a covenant, a solemn agreement between each other to come to one another's defence if any one of the communities is attacked. It is the greatest possible sign of real and effective dialogue if ordinary people from the area will immediately come to support the community that has been attacked."
A meeting with Mr Muhammad Ijaz ul Haq, the Minister for Religious Affairs followed. Discussion centred around the challenge of religious education and the protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially in the wake of the Sangla Hills incident.
Earlier, Dr Williams had told reporters that the incident had focussed attention on the problems caused by the country's blasphemy laws.
"I think it is widely recognised that the abuse of the blasphemy laws is a major problem which this country has to tackle; the problem is not so much the idea of a law against blasphemy as about a law whose penalty is so severe and whose practice gives so much scope for allowing people to settle private scores."
"It is true that in many areas the concern has been expressed that local authorities have been slow to respond. On the other hand, the National authorities have condemned these activities and I think that's where the leverage lies."
"I was able to speak to the President directly about this and the problem is certainly widely recognised."
On Wednesday evening, Dr Williams attended a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner, HE Mark Lyall Grant CMG and Mrs Sheila Lyall Grant.
Dr Williams has travelled to Pakistan accompanied by his wife, Jane, and by the Anglican Bishop of Clogher, the Rt Revd Michael Jackson, who chairs the Network of Interfaith Concerns for the Anglican Communion.