When Columbans began working in the parish of Greentown, Lahore, Pakistan, in 2007, I tried to build up Christian-Muslim relations, for example hosting Iftar dinners during Ramadan. The local Catholics were largely resistant to these efforts, given the negativity they normally experience from Muslims, and Muslims, on their part, were usually disinterested and/or suspicious of such encounters. However, there were exceptions and we persevered. One was the local Police Superintendent who had addressed an interfaith meeting, and when suddenly, in 2014, a Catholic family were accused of blasphemy and the local mosque threatened a march on their property after Friday prayers, he went to the mosque (blocking the media from following him) and managed to persuade the leaders to call off the march and protest which had risked turning violent. This intervention not only potentially saved many lives but also showed the value of the often painstaking work of building relationships that I and others had been doing for the previous years.
I am now living in an apartment in Hyderabad in a predominantly Muslim area. For the past four months, I have had many ordinary, daily interfaith encounters with my neighbors. For most, it would be the first time for them to know a Catholic priest. My landlord (who is my upstairs neighbor) has even started sending down food once or twice a week (!) and a lady from across the street has come enquiring about a wedding dress (which Christians are normally known to sew), but has also shared some health and personal issues. So I am feeling more and more at home here. On Christmas Day, I went around all 99 apartments in our complex distributing sweets and good wishes, which was tiring for me, but very well received by the vast majority.
Columban Fr. Liam O’Callahan lives and works in Pakistan.