Book Reviews (English)

The Wounded Healer

Henri J Nouwen says that we live in a world of hatred and oppression where men and women are seeking and calling out for a Messiah who would liberate them from their tyranny of the oppressors and let peace and justice prevail in their midst. But how do they find and recognize this “Messiah” or “liberator”?

The writer presents an illustration in which he relates a short dialog that takes place between a Rabbi and Prophet Elijah about the long awaited Messiah. The prophet tells the Rabbi that he will find the Messiah among the poor covered with wounds and while others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up, the Messiah, unbinds his wounds, one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself that he must be ready to help others any moment he is called out to. That is to say, he must be ready at all times to reach out to help others, wasting no time in binding up all his wounds. Thus, the Messiah amongst the poor is the minister who first must acknowledge his own wounds, unbind and bind them very carefully but let not his wounds become a pretext or excuse for not reaching out to the other wounded who may need him any time. Thus, he is to be the wounded minister and the wounded healer.

This story from the Talmud reminds us of Jesus who before his crucifixion had the last Passover meal with his disciples and broke the bread and gave it to the disciples saying this is my body that is broken for you and my blood that is shed for you and for many so that they may have salvation. This also reminds us of the Bible verse, “by his wound we are healed”

The writer goes on to delineate the meaning of the wounds of a minister. The minister of the modern times, he says, is indeed a wounded minister, in that s/he is a lonely and isolated man/woman who in the modern materialistic world sees his/her role changed dramatically and limited drastically.  The role of the minister has changed and so has the meaning of his ministry. A minister today is hardly the minister of the yonder days as s/he is obliged to make too many compromises and adjustment to the demands of the time. And with this painful reality, s/he goes out to perform his/ her duties in the routine-mode. The minister is very much conscious of this dilemma.

Personal Loneliness

The culture of a growing cut-throat competition and a world seeped in loneliness fails to recognize and acknowledge its dilemma but tries to defy it by countering it with false pleasures and treating it with fake remedies as psychotherapies, “huggers” social entertainments and media limelight. The more they seek such “escapes” the more they sink deeper into the depth of loneliness and despair, as the emptiness and the hollowness of their inner being is never satiated.

The minister of today is kept at the peripheral edge of the lives of the society. He is no more welcomed as “man of God” or “an honored guest”. His role has been limited to an “extra” or only when he is needed for a specific purpose, thus, “he is not taken seriously” when things are just fine. In other words, he is not man of the “fine weather” but that of a storm and crisis.

The writer further delineates this view by emphatically proclaiming that the Christian way of life does not necessarily take away our loneliness and emptiness (wounds)  but helps us utilizes it to transcend beyond it in order to understand others’ loneliness and emptiness. But this can only happen if we first recognize (be aware of) and acknowledge our own loneliness and emptiness (wounds). Thus, instead of allowing our inner loneliness and emptiness (wounds) to become destructive, we, as Christians, ought to utilize them to heal others’ loneliness and emptiness (wounds) it is the cross that for Jesus was source of excruciating pain and suffering but became a symbol of salvation for all who embraced its message. (Through his wounds we were healed) We, therefore, have a choice to either let our loneliness and emptiness (wounds) become a cause of self-destruction or a source of healing for others when we are able to see them in the same condition. (empathy

Helen Keller (blind, the deaf and mute) once while addressing a school group of blind children at a school for the blind and mute, said in her very limited articulation, “I know every step of the way you walk, as I have been there”. Jesus forewarned his disciples and followers that the world will persecute and hate them, just as they did to him, but he overcame the world, not by retaliating but by using the same pain, persecution and suffering to reach out to them and connect with them.

In Search of “the ideal”

The writer further goes on to say that the problem with the modern world is that it tries to fill its loneliness by seeking for “the ideal”. Men and women assume there is someone out there (Mr. / Miss perfect) who will fully understand them and love them and in a way that will completely take away their loneliness and emptiness. Since such utopian whims and wishes soon are shattered into pieces, when they discover that “the ideal” was after all not as ideal as they had envisaged or expected. If there were really such “ideals” out there, there would hardly be any divorces or separations. Sadly, the ideals are only found in works of fiction or in dreams. Marriages and relations fall apart because neither of the partners is able to enter into the dark, “hidden” and the unexplored territories (The Johari Window) of their spouse’s heart or soul which is not that “attractive” and “pleasing”.

The more I became acquainted with the disposition of my beloved

The more, I became lonelier and lonelier and lonelier

Minister: The Marginalized One

The role of the minister in people’s lives is becoming very limited as he is hardly invited to come over and listen to what’s going on in people’s lives. He is only “let in” when it is almost the end of the road for many.  Or, he is there to perform THE LAST rites because, he only is THE LAST ONE to be permitted in the whole affair.

The media reports the suicide of a man or a woman and they show the interviews of the neighbors and friends who, facing the cameras say, “He was always friendly and cheerful, etc. etc., “we could never imagine he / she could do such a thing, this comes as a huge shock to us.”

So, there we have it.

“Faces are but deceptive and things are not as them seem to be” Shakespeare

So, what went wrong? The neighbors and the community had only seen the smiling face, greeting everyone in the street, at a local store or at a community event. But, neither the “fallen one” nor the community had ever had a chance to look deeper and see the wounds that were always bandaged with a smile.

“how come you are always smiling, is there a pain that you are trying to conceal? ”

The writer paints the sorry portrait of the minister by saying that, the s/he “always, seems to arrive at the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong people, outside the walls of the city when the feast is over, with a few a crying women”

The writer narrates an event when the pilot of a ship, in a desperate situation bumps into a priest and, says, “God damn it, Father, get out of my way” But soon realizing his own incompetency and guilt comes back to seek the preiest’s “presence” in the rather rough and perilous situation. “This might be the only time I really need you”, says the frustrated and confused pilot to the priest he had shunned moments before.

The minister is, thus, not “a fair weather” friend but is indeed only “a friend in need”.

Nouwen says that people tend to overlook their hurt or ignore it or even pretend as if it were not there but when life pushes them to the edge, they realize that the wound was always very much there. And, how aptly, a philosopher puts it, “it always hurts more where the scar is”.

Loneliness is the wound of a minister in these days. This is the wound he has to bind very gently and carefully. Forming a community of faith in these days is a hard calling and the minister in his loneliness and neglect has to make use of this wound, first by accepting it as a bitter reality of the day and then by putting it into the service of healing others.

The Healing Minister

The writer now embarks on deciphering and interpreting the enigmatic concept of the “Wounded Healer” and elucidating the all too paradoxical philosophy of “making our wound the source of healing” for others.

Nouwen asserts that while “a doctor can still be a good doctor while his own private life is badly disturbed, no minister can offer service without a constant and vital knowledge of his own experiences.” But the writer here points out the fine and subtle difference between the two. No minister, he says, can stand behind the pulpit and rant about his own miserable condition or tell what he is going through. This, he says, by no means is going to be of any help either to him or to the congregation.  Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, says Nouwen, does not call for sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant reminder and recognition of one’s own pain before seeing it in others. It is not in seeking a morbid and melancholic pleasure in pain or romanticizing suffering but feeling its depth and extensiveness only to understand it better.

The Buddhist Philosophy of “Dukha”

This brings to my mind the Buddhist concept of “dukha” or suffering, which the Buddhist philosophy teaches to embrace as an ultimate reality of life and from which there is no escape until the cycle of   reincarnation goes on. The salvation or mukti / moksha will only be achieved when the recognition of dukha will be established and then measure will be taken to counter it. Escape there is none, for as much as we will try to escape from it, the more will it pursue and haunt us. The liberation (mukti/Moksha) asserts Nouwen, is in “constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of human condition”. This resonates very much with some of the Biblical texts:

  1. Psalms 90:2 KJV “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

Ecclesiastes 2:23 KJVFor all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night…”

  1. Job 5:8 KJVFor he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.”

Healing and Hospitality

The writer goes on to explain how this healing can take place. He suggests that instead of focusing on the conventional Christian moral values such as compassion, care and forgiveness etc. there is a much needed virtue of hospitality that should be put in practice to embrace the wounded and lonely souls.

Hospitality and Concentration:

Nouwen says that hospitality is the ability to pay attention to the guest. The world is too busy and so are many ministers, too busy to concentrate on “self”. This goes for almost everyone today as we tend to look at people not as who they are and what they are saying but what can we get from them. Instead of trying to peep into their self we try to impose our self on them. Nouwen says that if we are not at home with our own self how could we make space or allow others to enter our home (self).  The writer further explains this by saying that it is the withdrawing of our self that is of vital importance to allow the other person to make way into our home (self) But if we are too full of our own self we cannot make space for others. Even in God’s act of the creation, according to the Jewish mystical doctrine, God had to withdraw to create. Thus, withdrawal of self-aids the other to come into being. In a more practical and wordly sense, when a guest or guest comes, the host in most cases, has to make some adjustments to squeeze and give up some of his own comfort and space in order to accommodate and make the guest feel comfortable and “at home”. This happens in mostly in eastern cultures where there is hardly a concept of a separate guest room for the visitors.  To me as someone from this culture, makes a clear and perfect sense.

Moreover, to me, this is one of the key or the most vital aspect of chaplaincy , as a chaplain must allow the patient to enter his “home” (self) as a guest and to feel at home speaking up his thoughts , sharing his innermost feelings or grievances in the comfort of the hospitality of the chaplain / minister.  (allowing the minister / chaplain do the midwifery) Withdrawing his own self (sorrow) and letting the guest (patient) pour it all out.

Nouwen says that when someone comes to a minister in his loneliness and suffering, he does not expect the minster to be a physician who will treat his condition but he comes with a hope that his pain and suffering will be understood and felt  (feel at home)  just as he is experiencing it. The writer also gives another scenario where he says that a woman who has suffered the loss of a healthy and beautiful child does not need to hear that she must have consolation in the fact that she still has two children with her but the minister here must face the challenge of helping her realize that in her child’s death she has to see the frailty of human life (stated above: Ecclesiastes 2;23, Job 5:18 and Psalms 91) and her own mortal condition. (also, the Buddhist philosophy of Dukha / suffering) The writer says that the minister must only try to prevent people from suffering when they suffer for the wrong reasons or with the false suppositions and illusions of immortality and wholeness. Ministry, the writer says, is a very confronting service which has to make people realize and recognize the mortal condition of human beings and this very recognition is the starting point of liberation. Once we are able to accept this bitter reality, acknowledge and share our brokenness and sorrow, only then are we are able to transform our suffering into hope and experience the spirit of Christian hospitality which creates a healing community. Thus, the shared sorrows produce a shared hope and shared weaknesses become a shared strength and this shared communion in turn creates recognition of God’s saving grace.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the writer goes back to the story that he started in the beginning of the chapter, where he talks about a Rabbi who asks Joshua when the Messiah would come. Elijah says that he could see the Messiah sitting among the poor at the city gate, binding his wounds one by one. The Rabbi goes to see the Messiah and asks when he would come. “Today” Said, The Messiah. The Rabbi goes back to Elijah and tells him that the Messiah has lied to him as he had said that he would come today but he has not.

Elijah says, “This is what he told you: ‘Today if you would listen to his voice’.”  (Psalm 95:7)

To me this is the same answer the Messiah (Jesus) gives in the New Testament:

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

“Behold, the kingdom of God is within you”. Luke 17: 20-21 KJV

The writer closes the discourse by saying that our loneliness and isolation makes us desperately look for a Messiah and a liberator who would take away our despair and miseries and usher a new era of peace and justice but we forget that our wounds are indeed the place where God will start his work of a new creation in us and that is where peace, justice and our healing will be initiated.

My Closing Annotations:

Elijah’s reply to the Rabbi that what the Messiah had said was indeedToday if you would listen to his voice”, resonates enormously with my eastern philosophy that rises from mysticism proclaiming that if we are to find God, we have to seek Him within. That is what the prophet tells the Rabbi, the Messiah has already come; we just have to look within us and listen to His voice. God does not dwell in temples built with stones and rocks but in the human heart, the heart that is hurt. Because it is only there that he can make his healing presence felt.

Quaid-e-Azam's Vision - Christians in Pakistan: The Battle for Justice

(Five Decades of Struggle for the constitutional rights of the Pakistan Christian Minority)

Author: George Felix

Publishers: St Salford (UK), Agape Press,  2001

ISBN: 1 870645 04 9

Pages: 208

 

Quaid-e-Azam’s Vision by Mr. George Felix is one of the rare works on the issue of the persecuted church in Pakistan. Mr. Felix takes pains to chronologically state the events in order to present his case for the minorities in Pakistan.

The book is a catalogue of the events that have slowly but surely led to the very dismal condition of the minorities in Pakistan in general and that of the Christians in particular. Mr. Felix has very explicitly expounded the vision of the founder of Pakistan and has made a solid case against the elements that have played a vigorous but nefarious role in sabotaging the true vision of the Quaid.

Mr. Felix has organized the book in two parts, the first part highlights the historical struggle of the minorities since the division of India into two states - India and Pakistan.  He also reports the significant incidents of the Christian persecution in various parts of the country over the years. The writer makes a very fair analysis of the events that have lead the Christians into the darkness of uncertainty and hopelessness. The book, “Quaid-e-Azam’s Vision” also raises many constitutional issues that have plagued the Christian minority in many ways for years. The bar on the right to jobs of Christians in civil services and many other national spheres has psychologically damaged the Christian minority in a very harsh and severe way.

Mr. Felix also brings to light many dimensions of the notorious blasphemy law called 295 C that has taken many lives in a most cruel way leaving the Christian minority totally helpless, handicapped and defenseless before the public and the legal system of the country. In the second part of the book, Mr. Felix presents the documentary proofs of the statements, news clips and the legal proceedings pertaining to the struggles of the minorities in Pakistan. Unfortunately, there seems to be no silver lining in the horizon as far as the future of Christians in Pakistan is concerned, however, people like Mr. George Felix have been trying to make an earnest effort to raise the issue at an international level to bring the gravity and the urgency of the matter to the attention of the international community and the civilized world.

The book, “Quaid-e-Azam’s Vision – Christians in Pakistan: The Battle for Justice” is an earnest and praiseworthy attempt to keep alive the issue of the persecuted church in Pakistan and is a great read for those who seek an honest and accurate understanding of the events of persecution of Christens in Pakistan.

Mr. Felix has put his heart and soul into his work and the book reveals his strong passion for doing something significant in the service of his fellow believers in Pakistan.

Dr. Prudent Injeeli

 

Future of Christians in Pakistan

Author:  Joshua Fazl-ud-Din

Publishing information: See the note at the end of this Book Review

Date: c. 1948/49

Pages: 140

 

“Future of Christians in Pakistan” is a great read for anyone who would like to understand the evolutionary cycle of the events that have led to the present dismal state of affairs in Pakistan particularly with regards to the minorities. Well said a poet, “there is a long time involved in the making of a tragedy, it doesn’t just happen accidently”. This is exactly how things have slowly but surefootedly cropped up the present circumstances for the minorities in Pakistan.

What has amazed me the most about the “Future of Christians in Pakistan” is the writer’s “almost” prophetic faculty to foresee the shape of things to come. Mr. Joshua Fazl-ud-Din displays a profound insight into the early events of the history of Pakistan that have now “blossomed” in full bloom to create the environment that the writer had feared as the “would be” plight of this country. What amazes me even more is that all the fears and apprehensions that the Mr. Joshua penned down in his book have not only materialized in their full manifestation but there are things that even he in his wildest imagination could not have pictured but they are now happening. Nevertheless, even if he did see them coming, he couldn’t have convinced himself that one day they could actually happen so he dissuaded himself from writing them down.

Mr. Joshua, for example, makes no mention of the possibility of the introduction of the blasphemy law which would clog any academic discussion of religion even on purely scholarly grounds. But we see that the blasphemy law is now here in all its “glare and glory” claiming scores of innocent lives mainly from the minority factions.

Throughout his book, Mr. Joshua reiterates the need of maintaining a strong Christian faith in the face of trials and troubles the Christian Minority was facing then, but he must be “rolling in his grave” to see what he was left shy of saying about the cold and cruel treatment being meted to the Christians in Pakistan now.

Mr. Joshua also mentions the sacrifices that were expected of the Christians to make and they indeed did make those sacrifices in order to make way for the Muslim migrants coming from Hindustan (India) The Christians were obliged to evacuate their houses and disclaim their lands with the standing crops to the immigrant Muslims.

The author does not fail to give the due credit to the Christian Missions and missionaries who left no stone unturned to help the displaced Christians in order to alleviate their woes and miseries. However, he laments the role of the British Imperialists who, despite sharing the same faith, deliberately remained biased towards Christianity and favored all the other religions and their followers. One cannot but fully agree with the writer that had the British taken a favorable approach towards Christianity or even had remained neutral, the social and religious landscape of the sub-continent would have been much different from what we see today.

I cannot admire enough the great insight and farsightedness that the author demonstrates in the 140 odd pages he has written on the Future of Christians in Pakistan, the future that we are living now. One cannot but speculate what more lies in the days, months and years to come that the author has only hinted at as a wave of severe and harsh persecution of the Christians has already been unleased in the pretext of establishing an ideal Islamic State founded on the Two Nation Theory and further groomed on the lines of the Objectives Resolution.

Lastly, as a keen reader of “Future of Christians in Pakistan” I strongly recommend the book to everyone who is bewildered at what is going on with the Christian minority in Pakistan as he/she will discover that all that we see now was not unexpected by the author who, over six decades before, as a keen observers of the events elaborately painted the picture of the Pakistan of today.

Book Review by Dr. Prudent Injeeli

 

Future of Christians in Pakistan  by Joshua Fazal-ud-Din was first published in c.1948/1949. As far as our we could try, our team has not been able to locate a single printed copy of this precious little book. However, we were able to find a PDF of this work on the internet. Considering the number of typographical and grammatical mistakes the manuscript contained, it wass of a very poor quality, nevertheless, it did appear to be the complete text(140 pages). It is to Dr. Prudent Injeeli's credit that he not only discovered the PDF but has painstakingly revised it and updated it to a very high quality manuscript. In the process he has offered this Book Review to be published on CUWAP.ORG website. 

If anybody has a copy of Future of Christians in Pakistan, please contact CUWAP.ORG to share the original publishing information. We would love to hear from you, and will be happy to acknowledge your help in appropriate place on this website.

 

The Targeting of 'Minority Others' in Pakistan

Authors: Fernandes, D., Lewis, N., Baluch, F.M., Singh, R., Takechandani, K., and Greenwood, R. 

Publisher: Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman: The British Pakistan Christian Association (BPCA), London, 2013

Pages: 512

The Targeting of ‘Minority Others’ in Pakistan is an encyclopaedic compilation of articles by six authors, each steeped in the subject matter they address. Each contributor writes passionately, in a no-holds-barred manner about, what they perceive to be, the unfair targeting of a group of people in Pakistan simply for being ‘other’. Individually it is a cry of each targeted group; collectively it is a lamentation of a people who have failed to reach the ideals of nationhood, even nearly seventy years after being declared an independent and sovereign state and, as a result, who have continued to marginalize and torture the very elements which could have helped her towards that ideal (and indeed have desperately tried to do so).

The book is well researched with one thousand three hundred and sixty three references.  The sources quoted in support of its thesis include, among others: US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Amnesty International (AI), Genocide Watch, The Human Rights Watch World Report, Nazir S Bhatti’s, ‘The trial of Pakistani Christian Nation’, other magazines, newspapers and extensive material from the Internet.

It is a courageous work as it not only showcases a myriad of human rights abuses against the minority ‘others':  Ahmadis, Shi’as (in general), Hazara Shi’as (in particular), Ismailis, Tribals, Pashtuns, Mohajirs, Dalits, Zikris, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Afghan Refugees, Balochs, Sindhis, other indigenous and sexual minority ‘others’ like eunuchs, transgenders and even females, but also pulls out and lays bare some of the skeletons hidden in Pakistan’s (proverbial) closets of history. The massacre of Bengalis in 1971 was a targeted ‘other’ shamefully claimed to be ‘a minority’ when in fact the population of the, East Pakistan, as the area was then known, was, an electoral majority.   Then on 28th May 1998 when Pakistan conducted six nuclear tests in Raak Koh areas of Chaghi district, Baluchistan, it was presented as a celebratory event for the whole nation. No one had, according to this account, taken the Baloch people or their leaders into confidence prior to the event. They, to this day, consider the choice of their land by the Pakistan establishment to be a reflection of the perceived ‘otherness’ of the Baloch people. In fact, the contributor of this section of the book claims that the Eastern Balochistan was ‘invaded’ by Pakistan on 27th March 1948 and that some Baloch leaders, i.e. the younger brother of Khan of Kalat started the struggle against the occupation of Balochistan which continues to this day.  Similar claims of Pakistan ‘invading’ Sindh province are also alluded to elsewhere in the text.  Due to the dire human rights situation, the Asian Human Rights Commission in its, Pakistan: The State of Human Rights in 2011 report explicitly referred to Pakistan as a dysfunctional state and explained the reasons.

The history and historicity of the so called ‘Blasphemy laws’, along with their ‘evolution’ over time from the simple laws ‘of offences relating to religion’ (provisions 295-298 Indian Penal code of British Raj) through to 295 A, B, C, 298 B and C where the interests of only one religion, and that also only as interpreted by the ruling majority, are protected, has left the international legal world aghast for words.  However, the stick-wielding, slogan-shouting self-righteous who hold sway over Pakistan’s masses are happy to keep harassing, imprisoning and killing their own people as ‘others’. These laws can conveniently make anyone the ‘other’ for the purpose of targeting them or their property. (This has been shown to be the case in many such cases.)  The leaps of legal substance covered and the change in the quantum of penalties and punishments stipulated by these laws defy logic.

The volume is also very critical of many governments and national and international organizations, and does not shy away from putting the blame fairly and squarely where it belongs. For example, on p 201, the contributor decries the ‘lack of transparency’ by the US, Saudi Arabian and Pakistani governments, NATO, the Pakistani armed forces, the ISI, and US intelligence agencies and special forces, IMF and the governing civilian elites as well as certain religious organizations and religious militias.

The book is not only a depressing catalogue of abuses and issues against the minority others of Pakistan, it also gives a list of recommendations to end many of these abuses, such as the list of recommendations found on p263-4, concerning the kidnapping and forced conversions of Hindu girls and young women, ‘Recommendations Regarding Kidnappings for Ransom Cases of Hindus’, and those regarding disparate treatment of scheduled caste populations.

It is noted, with regret that, despite its academic and scholarly merits, lack of an index severely limits its usefulness. In addition the font size 8 is not easily readable by most.  This reviewer hopes that the future editions of this work will overcome one, if not both, of these hurdles. Its deficiencies notwithstanding, for any passionate student, or ardent scholar, the book is a storehouse of facts, facts and more facts. The referencing is great, though what is presented as fact by the authors may not necessarily be accepted by readers as such: some ‘facts’, can be, and undoubtedly will be, seen by at least some readers as extreme distortions of mainline history. Of course every reader, like every writer, has a right to his (her) biases.

In my opinion, probably no book reviewer, and certainly not this one, can do justice to a work of this complexity by offering a single review. The book has many layers of messages, and depending on which ‘minority other’ the reader identifies with, it gives a different message. However, for any fair minded, devout and patriotic Pakistani, its message leaves an indelible impression of deep sorrow, unquenchable anger, and a hopeless sense of despondency.As a Christian from Pakistan, I found the chapter 7.14, (p 303 – 430) entitled, ‘A non-exhaustive account of incidents of persecution, oppression and discrimination against Christians in Pakistan from the mid 1990’s on’, to be very potent as the Christian community of Pakistan have left no stone unturned to serve Pakistan at every conceivable level of social, political and institutional levels.

In all honesty, I cannot say that anyone will ‘enjoy’ this book. However, I do, in the strongest possible manner, recommend it to everyone who considers himself (herself) to be endowed with the moral spark of fairness, and wants to see a more just world. I further believe that there needs to be a warning written on the book stating: Graphic contents of blood and gore, some may find the contents of this volume very distressing, and therefore it should not be read by those who believe (or want to believe) in only the idealistic and rosy view of Pakistan.

Sermon in Blood

Sermon in Blood: Sacrifice and Struggle of Bishop Dr John Joseph, a symbol of Christian-Muslim Harmony

Author: Prof Gulzar Waffa Chaudhry

On May 6 1998, at 9:30 pm, Dr John Joseph, the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, Pakistan, committed suicide in front of a Court in Faisalabad that had sentenced a Pakistani Christian man (Ayub Masih) for alleged blasphemy. The Bishop's last words, just as he pulled the trigger of the gun held to his own temple, were addressed to him: "Ayub I am offering my life for you".

 On 5th April 1994 Manzoor Masih of Gujranwala, accused of blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam was gunned down by unknown assassins. During the incident his co-accused Salamat Masih (a minor),  Rehmat Masih and  a mutual friend John Joseph (of Lahore) also received critical injuries. The funeral for Manzoor Masih was held in the Catholic cathedral of Lawrence Road, Lahore, on 7th April and was attended by people representing all walks of life,  and of various faiths and creeds. Bishop John Joseph at the conclusion of the ceremony had stepped forward to the coffin, kissed the feet of dead body of Manzoor Masih and addressing it said, "I wish, I had died in your place." The funeral procession then moved on to the Christian cemetery where he was returned, "dust unto dust".

In January 1995 twelve-year old Salmat Masih and his relative Rehmat Masih both co-accused of the late Manzoor Masih were sentenced to death in the session court Lahore. (Death sentence to a minor is against the U.N. conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory). After a dangerous and convoluted legal battle, the accused were acquitted of  the charges on 23rd February 1995. The acquitted Salmat Masih and Rehmat Masih were flown to Germany on asylum to save their lives from blood thirsty extremists.

On 14th October 1996 Mohammad Akram, a Muslim, registered a case against twenty-five year old Christian, Ayub Masih of Arifwala (District Pakpatan), accusing him of having said to him and his Muslim companions to read Salman Rushdi's Satanic Verses as well as uttering other blasphemous remarks. The real reason was that the Christians, as well as the Muslim residents, were given residential plots by the government and this was an easy and sure-shot way of ensuring that the Christians would vacate their rightful plots so that the Muslim land grab mafia could take their possession. It was the culmination of this case which lead the Bishop to lay down his life, in a manner described in  Sermon In Blood.

The author details the last ten days of the Bishop, beginning from 27th April when Rana Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Sessions Judge of Sahiwal, awarded death penalty to Ayub Masih under  Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code. This unjustified verdict caused the Bishop to write a 19 page letter the next day, in which he narrated the events and  wrote "I shall count myself extremely fourtunate, if...Our Lord accepts the sacrifice of my blood for the benefit of his people..." (p 13 of the said letter). The letter was faxed to Father Seige at Rome on 29th April. There were ample hints in those last ten days that the Bishop was contemplating self-sacrifice though he never stated it in direct terms. And then when he felt the time was right he asked his chauffer to drive him to the session court where Ayub Masih had been sentenced, and scarified his life in protest, in pursuance of what he earlier had termed "The Final Step against the 295-C".

In addition to providing great detail of Ayub Masih's case, the book also catalogues many other atrocities committed against the Christian's of Pakistan. For example, on 5th/6th February 1997 Shantinagar,  a Christian village in the Khanewal district, was burned just after 48 hours after Pakistan Muslim League was declared the winner in the elections.

In my view the title of this relatively short treatise is as powerful as the saga it has endeavoured to preserve for posterity. Being a powerful orator and an accomplished writer, the Bishop had preached many a sermon from the pulpit. But his very last sermon, which was neither written in ink, nor orated from a pulpit, was heard the world over.

When these events were unfolding this reviewer was in Pakistan, and can recall with acute vividness, the shock waves it sent through the nation and especially the Christian community including Catholics and the Protestants.

The champion of Christian-Muslim harmony had come to the end of a blind alley in his struggle and could no longer bear the pain of seeing innocent sheep of his flock being sent to the slaughter house. Along with the author, I believe, considering all the circumstantial evidence, as well as his passion for justice, his suicide must be seen as a self-sacrifice for a cause. The author enlists eleven other prominent personages in the chapter entitled self-sacrifice for Liberation, and ends it with these words:

 And the last, thereafter, is the self-sacrifice for Bishop John Joesph. He, as hinted by him earlier "astonished" the government by offering the sacrifice of his own life, with his own gun, triggered by his own hand. With a fatal protest fire in his own head, he marked that the human rights situation was much worse, in Pakistan than it apparently looked. In his last meeting in a Catholic Church of Sahiwal (formally Montgomery) he said. "Christians in Pakistan are being held in  a "death-sentence blackmail" by the Blashpemy Law, under which their small businesses are being taken over and their property is being seized and the situation is such that there womem are not safe. (p83

Socrates, in his own set of circumstances, before drinking the cup of poison  had said "perhaps then in this way it is not beyond reason that a man ought not to kill himself unless God send upon him some necessity, such as mine in my present p

In addition to characterising the bishop, narrating his story, communicating his passion, the book also has a compilation of tributes offered at his tragic death. To counter balance these the athor also  enlists the responses from the government and her mouthpieces. The then Information Minister Mushahid Hussain Sayed, stated "The minorities are getting full protectin under law, constitution and under the Islam in Pakistan".

Strictly speaking the book is not written in any of the traditional styles of narrating events chronologically, or pursing an argument logically. This is not to say that it is historically inaccurate or that it is illogical, but to stress that it is more of a friend's tribute of sincerity and love, and as it is a work of overwhelming emotions more than of academic discipline, it does tend to be factually repetitious. Regrettably nor is it free from typographical errors. However, coming from a close friend, a fellow Pakistani Christian, and a partner in human rights struggle, it is an excellent  resource for sincere students of the plight that the Pakistani Christians find themselves in. Thus, in my view this book must be accepted in its totality in the spirit in which it is written (some might argue that 'compiled' might be a better description of this work).

Akhtar Injeeli

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