Pakistan: “There is a blessing for those who touch the Word of God”

The Church dedicates the month of September to the Bible and reminds us that “whoever does not know Holy Scripture does not know Christ”


On September 30, the memory of Saint Jerome, father and doctor of the Church, who translated the Bible into Latin, is celebrated. The Church dedicates the month of September to the Bible and recalls Saint Jerome’s deep conviction that “he who does not know Holy Scripture does not know Christ”.

The Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) foundation spoke with Father Emmanuel Asi, executive secretary of the Catholic Biblical Commission in Pakistan since its foundation in 2002, about the situation of Christians and the apostolate he carries out in Pakistan. Father Asi, a priest of the Archdiocese of Lahore, also highlighted the sacred nature of the Bible for his faithful.


What is the situation of Christians in Pakistan?

Pakistan is an Islamic republic with 230 million inhabitants, of whom 97% are Muslim. The remaining 3% are minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Most of the 1.5 million Christians are Catholic. Therefore, for people of religions other than Islam, such as Christians, living in Pakistan is not easy. There is no religious freedom.

But the Constitution recognizes that “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and spread his religion”, and that all religious denominations “have the right to found, maintain and manage their own religious institutions”. What is happening then?

On paper we are allowed to do everything, we have rights; but in practice, in politics, in social life, in academic life, in working life, there is a lot of discrimination and difficulties for our young people—those who want to study at universities and those who are looking for work. In the Church, you can do what you want, you have 100% freedom. You can run your schools, you can run your institutes, you can run your parishes, your community, do any program, you can print Bibles, you can print your books. But once you go out to society, to the street, to the office, to work, then there are difficulties, there is discrimination.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for Christians in Pakistan?

The first challenge for them is to remain faithful and be brave in daily life. We have a great blessing, and that is that most of our people are young. When you go to church, about 65 percent of the people are under 40 years old. Therefore, our Church is very much alive. But our big problem, our main challenge is the education of our people, because education in Pakistan is very low. Illiteracy is very high. On the other hand, the Christian population continues to grow, this is another challenge: how to reach people. The bishops want to open more parishes. We have enough priests and vocations, so we will have enough priests in the future. That is not our difficulty, but to be able to open parishes, build parish houses to be able to reach the people.

How does the Bible Commission spread the Gospel message in Pakistan?

In the last 20 years, since the Catholic Biblical Commission has existed, we have done many things to bring the Word of God closer to the people, and the people to the Word of God. This is our mission. People want to listen, they want to read the Word of God. We have several programs for people. For example, one called ‘one hundred thousand friends of the Bible’ in which people from all over Pakistan sign up, who have their own Bible and like to read it at least five minutes a day.

Last year, in November, we put the audio Bibles on the internet for people who can’t read. Thus, people can listen to the Word of God. In addition, we have the Children’s Bible and the YouCat Bible printed in Urdu thanks to the ACN Foundation. We have printed 70,000 Bibles.

Also, we have in all the dioceses the Bible marathon in which about 2000 people participate throughout the country. In 127 hours, the entire Bible is read continuously, day and night. Each person reads 15 or 20 Bible verses. People have become enthusiastic and spiritually excited about this program.


Could you tell us a story about how the Bible has changed people’s lives?

I have many, many testimonials. There was an illiterate person. I did not know how to read. When I talked to him, he said, “I want to read the Bible, but I can’t read.” So I told him that in the Bible there is a special blessing for those who touch the Word of God. So I told him, “every day you must touch a page of the Bible, every word of the Bible. Go line by line, give this blessing to your fingers, because it is written in the Bible that there is a blessing for those who touch the Word of God. The idea was that every day he would open the Bible and touch a few lines. He did so and in two and a half years he came to see me, he was so happy and excited! He told me, “I received a lot of blessings, a lot of conversion and change in my life. I’ve touched the whole Bible.” So I gave him a certificate, because people who read the whole Bible receive a certificate from us.

How is your work outside the Church, especially in a majority Muslim country?

First of all, we offer many seminars to which many people of other religions are invited. Recently, we had a seminar on spirituality in which people from six religions participated. Second, we work with university professors and students in studies of comparative religion. Third, there is the live dialogue. Day and night we are living with other religions. We live with them, we talk to them, they come to our houses, we go to theirs.

Would you like to give a final message to ACN and the benefactors?

I want to thank the people around the world, the people of ACN, all those who help us financially and those who support us with their prayers. I ask you to continue helping, especially to Pakistan. I ask you on behalf of our people: Please continue to help us as much as you can! Whatever the critical situation, whatever the bitter reality, we must have hope in God. Only hope can give birth to a new life. In our language, when a woman is pregnant, we use this word to say that she “is with Umeed (امید)”, “she is with hope”, that she will give birth to a new life. Hope makes you multiply and bear fruit.