by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Why did you choose to be a Franciscan?
Father Victor: My father was a catechist even before his marriage in Nawabshah Sindh, in southern Pakistan. When he got married both my parents decided that their first born child would be offered in the service of the Lord. They were very happy when I was born in their family. As I grew up I went to the Catholic School run by the Franciscans. My parish priest was living with the community of four Franciscan Friars, I saw their life very simple, down to earth, could easily mixed up with ordinary people. They used to go to the far flung areas of the parish to visit and celebrate the Eucharist as well as other sacraments and stayed in their houses for one full week (Monday to Friday). The ordinary people loved them. There was something in them to attract people towards them. As I had heard the desire and wish of my parents I was observing the life and the work of the friars, my interest started growing in becoming a Franciscan, my parents, teachers and friars encouraged me to go forward and join. In the mean time I also attended some of the Franciscan vocation programs, “come a see”. I completed my matriculation ( 10th standard) and joined the initial formation in Dar-ul-Naim (House of blessings), Lahore in the North of Pakistan.
Gordon: Where did you attend seminary and what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?
Father Victor: I joined Dar-ul-Naim, Lahore in September !977 for my initial formation for three years. There I completed my college for two years and another year for the postulancy program in preparation for the Novitiate. In DUN I learned English as my third language, my mother tong is Punjabi, national language is Urdu and English an official and international language.
In August 1, 1980 I started my Novitiate for one year, focusing mainly on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the Rules and the Constitution and the history of the Franciscans. After the Novitiate I entered into the religious course for two years and later joined, Christ the King National Seminary in Karachi, Pakistan. My favorite course was studying Islam. The reason was that Islam being the religion of peace, why there is no tolerance and justice for religious minorities in the Islamic State of Pakistan.
Gordon: What was your first assignment and what did you learn there?
Father Victor: I was ordained a priest on December 5, 1986 and my first assignment was in Gujrat, Pakistan as an associate pastor (assistant parish priest). My pastor was a very good pastor and I learned from him the house visiting of the parishioners especially when someone was sick or have died in the family. The other thing I learned was the office work., how to maintain the record and the registers of the parish. I also learned to be humble and being available to the needs of the people under my care. I am happy, satisfied and cherish these qualities in me. I had worked in four parishes in three dioceses in Pakistan for over twenty eight years. After that I was asked to be a novice master for three years and another two years in the initial formation as an educator. It enhanced my learning experience after so many years of pastoral work.
Gordon: What is your current parish and approximately how many people do you serve?
Father Victor: My current assignment is in Rome, serving in the Basilica of St. John the Lateran as a confessor. We are eight friars from seven different nationalities our main responsibility is to listen to the confessions of the people, no other responsibilities in the Basilica regarding celebration of the Eucharist or other Sacraments. We celebrate our daily masses in our private chapel in our friary.
Gordon: What are the principal challenges’ of Catholicism in Pakistan?
Father Victor: The current population of Pakistan is 220.9 million approximately, out of which the majority are Muslims. The Christians and Hindus are two largest religious minorities in Pakistan. The total numbers of Christians in Pakistan were estimated about 2.6 million or 1.6% of the population; half are Roman Catholics and half other Protestants denominations. The Christians of Pakistan are patriotic towards their country and they are serving in every field, particularly in health, education and defense. Their services are appreciated and recognized, especially in areas of Health and Education.
The present day reality in Pakistan/ Challenges:
Almost every Christian in their daily life are experiencing different types of discriminatory attitudes by the majority religion, this practice continues in educational institutions and whatever institutes, Christian inmates are working with and among the majority of Muslims.
The Christians are also called Churra (because most of the people are sanitary workers - filthy or low grade human beings) while on the other side the majority of Muslims wish to send their children in the educational institutions run by the Christians/ Catholics. The underage Christian girls are not only victims of rape but also of forced conversions and are forced to marry with Muslim men. The Christians are victims of discrimination and violence by Muslim extremists in the country and a series of sharp increase of violence continues on the basis of religious grounds.
The Christian community is also victim of religiously motivated violence by the religious extremists. Churches (buildings) in various parts of the country were attacked, set on fire, looted and worshippers were seriously injured and killed.
In Pakistan the Christian persecution is harsh reality and the Christians are being targeted only because they are Christians. The Christians have suffered injustice, being victims of mob violence, forced removals from their jobs and also facing social, political and economic discrimination. They are being killed, targeted, having their homes and churches confiscated or destroyed and being forced to flee for their lives.
The Christians painfully observed the sufferings after alleged incidents of blasphemy or any other alleged allegations related with religion always resulting inhuman mob violence, targeted killings, looting, burning the house, places of worships (churches) and holy books into fires etc.
The biggest threat confronting Pakistan is the growing attacks of militants. The increasing number of killings of the innocent citizens by the terrorist banned outfits across the country throughout the year is alarming.
Obviously, this was a greatest threat to fundamental rights of the citizens as well as to the human rights defenders. The civil society organizations (which include the enlightened Muslim) time to time draw attention on the prejudices, religious intolerance, discriminatory practices against Christians such as misuse of blasphemy laws against Christians, injustices and sexual harassment at workplace against Christian women & girls (enforced conversion & enforced marriages) and religiously motivated violence & hatred, discriminations in curriculum and at the state level, all forms of degrading treatments and on the unpleasant incidents of persecution etc.
The discrimination is faced by our young people even in applying for government jobs too. There are forced conversions of Christian and Hindu girls to Islam on a regular basis through marriages and forced conversions due to poverty or for security reasons. "If you become a Muslim, you will get a good job, you will be accepted and move up on the social ladder etc." Also you will be safe. No one will kill you or blame you falsely for blasphemy if you become a Muslim.
Gordon: What is your favorite prayer?
Father Victor: My favorite prayers are “Our Father” , “Hail, Mary” and the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, “Lord make me an instrument of peace”.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional and inspiring interview.