Pakistan: One-nil to religious freedom

John Pontifex reports back from a country of crisis

History tells us how, in times of tension and conflict, sport – and perhaps football in particular – can bring people together.

And this is what inspired Father Emmanuel Parves to come up with the idea of an annual football tournament involving people from across Pakistan’s four provinces both Christians and Muslims.

Since it started 15 years ago, the tournament – held in the Christian village of Khushpur, Punjab province – has grown fast and it now attracts 32 teams. Inviting me to a third-round match, Fr Emmanuel introduced me to a Muslim friend, Mohammed Shafiq, owner of Sumundri Football Club, Punjab.

Mr Shafiq, who is responsible for Muslim-Christian relations on his local council told me: “I want to develop relations with Christian communities and this is a wonderful way to do it.”

Mr Shafiq said: “Fr Emmanuel is a good man and both of us share a vision of raising the profile of football in Pakistan.”

With Christians and other minorities in Pakistan suffering repeated acts of violence and oppression, Aid to the Church in Need is working with Church leaders to help break down prejudice and build inter-faith relations.