PAKISTAN: Education liberating the country’s Christians from poverty

Brick-kiln workers near Faisalabad are trapped in back-breaking servitude because of a lack of education.
Brick-kiln workers near Faisalabad are trapped in back-breaking servitude because of a lack of education.

With illiteracy forcing thousands of Christians to work in slave-like conditions across Pakistan, a leading Catholic charity is helping them escape the poverty trap through education.

Aid to the Church in Need is providing Christian education resources, including its Child’s Bible, as part of a drive led by bishops to tackle illiteracy.

Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, the president of Pakistan’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told ACN that illiteracy was rife among Christians, adding: “Education is of prime importance.

“Many people cannot continue their education, either because there are no schools or no money.”

He added: “Our community has to have access to education.

“When Christians are educated and have had professional training, then the image of our community will change.”

Father Sylvester Joseph, a parish priest in Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese, told ACN: “Most of our people are illiterate”.

In southern Pakistan’s Hyderabad Diocese, Bishop Samson Shukardin is helping marginalised tribal groups with education programmes designed to tackle poverty.

Bishop Shukardin said: “The catechists try to convince the parents to make a sacrifice, though not at all easy, and send their children to one of our schools.

“The illiteracy rate among them is high, [but] the Church is active among them with catechesis, faith-formation, education and awareness.

“Regular home visitation is a very important part of the pastoral outreach, which gives the opportunity for hearing their stories, some catechesis, the celebration of the Eucharist and the singing of Christian hymns in their language.”

ACN has also supplied a vehicle to transport Catholic families for classes at Hyderabad’s parish centre and Joti Pastoral Educational Cultural Centre in Mirpurkhas.

Bishop Shukardin said: “The parents are encouraged to send their children to school, either our Catholic schools if there is one in their neighbourhood or otherwise to other schools.