Multan (Agenzia Fides) – The spirit is “that of the Good Samaritan, who did not request the identity of the man in need, but helped him without hesitation.” “Today our task in this terrible tragedy is to show the love of God to every human being regardless of religion, community, welfare state." With these words, Bishop Andrew Francis of the Diocese of Multan, a large diocese in Punjab, told Fides of his personal commitment to the victims of the tragedy.
Every day, the bishop travels hundreds of kilometers (the diocese is very extensive and also includes areas in the Province of Baluchistan), to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees, leading a team of local Caritas members: "When I go out, I wear the habit and the Bishop's Cross: I am first and foremost a Catholic priest and my presence in itself expresses the closeness and solidarity of the entire Catholic Church towards the displaced flood victims. In them, we see Jesus Christ as the Gospel says, naked, hungry, thirsty, and is awaiting our care."
"Our rescue operations and delivery of humanitarian aid - food, water, tents, especially medicine - reach at least 25,000 people in seven districts. We are doing our best, placing all our resources at their disposal," he told Fides. Humanitarian work there is also "an intense prayer: many families are asking us to pray for them. We place their lives in God's hands," he notes.
As for those receiving relief aid, the bishop told Fides. "We reach out to all those in need, with no hesitation: there are many Hindus in our diocese who have been severely affected by floods and there are few Christian families. We also brought aid to Muslim extremists, for example I went with the Bishop's Cross around my neck, to the madrassas, the Koranic schools located across the Diocese of Multan. As a bishop, I have brought humanitarian aid to mullahs known for quite radical ideas. I was well received. They appreciated it and thanked us." The bishop also held an interfaith gathering at the Cathedral of Multan "to invoke God's mercy along with Christian, Muslim, and Hindu leaders. The tragedy is uniting all religious communities in solidarity."
Specific attention is "to disabled children and those with Down's syndrome: their families are in great difficulty. Caritas teams are roaming the villages in search of these families, who are the most desperate cases." In this work of helping children, "a very special contribution comes from the children of the Holy Childhood Association in the diocese. They have gone door-to-door to collect funds for children and, to date, we have been able to offer aid to over 20,000 children from refugee families.”
The Bishop concluded: "I am happy to be a Christian in Pakistan, despite the difficulties, even in this tragedy. The Church's mission today is to accompany her suffering neighbor and be a sign of the love and mercy of God." (PA) (Agenzia Fides 09/09/2010)