A Faith in Pakistan

On Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of introducing Father James Channan, URI’s Regional Coordinator for Pakistan, at a reception in his honor. After covering a few background facts—his degrees in Islamic Studies and Arabic Language and Counseling and his role as a founder of URI Pakistan I tried to give the audience some context for his forthcoming address.


"You will hear Father Channan often use words like 'peace, tolerance, harmony.'  Words that could sound slightly hollow to an American audience.  But in a land where, because of what you believe about God, your house might be burned to the ground, you might be falsely accused of blasphemy, you might be blown to bits by a bomb, or beaten to death by a mob, 'peace, tolerance, harmony' are muscular, risky and dangerous words. This is the kind of life that Father Channan lives, and this is at the core of URI's agenda in Pakistan.


A couple of years ago there was a devastating earthquake in a remote Pakistani mountain range. So remote that relief workers at first couldn't get to the victims. Among the first responders up the mountain was a small group of URI folks with blankets and tents, with Father Channan providing the leadership.


Last year 11 million Pakistanis were displaced by massive flooding.  Among the first responders with medicine and supplies was a URI contingent under the leadership of Father James.


When Pakistan came into being in 1947/8, 24 percent of its land was forest. Today less than 2.5 percent is forest. URI environmentalists—Christians and Muslims—are speaking out, teaching conservation and planting trees.


A couple of years ago when hundreds of homes of people from a minority religion were burned to the ground in the Swat region and some believers were burned alive, Father James and a URI group showed up in solidarity and gave charity.


And in March, one of Father Channan’s closest associates was pulled from his car and riddled with bullets. A man whom the government had put in charge of protecting the rights of religious minorities.


I can confidently predict that tonight in Pakistan there are small groups of people—Taliban, Al Qaeda—gathered to plot disaster. But let's look at the other side. There are also tonight small groups of people—URI people in Cooperation Circles—gathered to plot peace, tolerance and harmony in Pakistan. And they could use a little help from their friends.


URI’s work is essential for the health and the promise of Pakistan, and URI is blessed to have the leadership and courage of Father James Channan."


After I spoke, Father Channan got up and told how his family had lived as Hindus in that land for centuries until they converted to Christianity in the latter part of the 19th century.  He talked about going to Muslim schools as a child, and switching to Roman Catholic schools. He talked about being a priest and an interfaith leader in his country. And at his most passionate moment he said, "I love my country. I love Pakistan."


Amidst all of the craziness that goes on there, Father Channan has a powerful faith in Pakistan.

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Peace Center is very important institution which is playing a significant role in spite of all the difficulties we are confronted with. A couple of Dominican Friars are active in Christian- Muslim dialogue and they are well known both nationally and internationally for promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue. It is top priority of the Dominican Order in the world and in Pakistan as well.
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