Vatican – Pope Francis could visit Pakistan after hosting the country’s Catholic bishops in the Vatican on Thursday.Pakistan’s government backed the visit, according to the Catholic bishops who issued the formal invitation after their ‘ad limina’ visit, which occurs once every five years, to Rome..
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent two federal ministers to Rome to personally deliver a letter of invitation to the Pontiff in 2015 but now arrangements for any visit would have to wait until after a new Pakistani government is set up in July.
‘Pope Francis is highly esteemed by all Pakistanis, including Muslims,’ said Joseph Coutts, the archbishop of Karachi. ‘They consider him a man of peace and appreciated his steps towards the Islamic community, not least the good relations with the Al-Azhar.’
In his meeting with the Catholic bishops the pontiff voiced concerns about the persecution aimed at Pakistan’s tiny Catholic minority. They discussed the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, which Coutts said meant ‘a person, almost always innocent, is accused without any proof and without the possibility of defending himself’.
After a string of terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s churches, the bishops also expressed concern that more could be coming.
‘There is constant danger and we do not know where and when the terrorists will strike again,’ Coutts, 72, said noting that some places of worship were protected on feast days such as Easter but are left unguarded most of the time.
They also discussed the country’s upcoming elections and Coutts said: ‘The main parties as well as those with Islamic affiliations are fighting each other, and a mature and wise candidate has not yet emerged.’