The Catholic Archbishop Sebastian Shaw had to extend a confessional apology for seating Maryam Nawaz at the sanctuary and letting her deliver a politically charged speech, a practice that is not uncommon among Pakistani non-liturgical Protestant denominations. Barefooted, decently clothed, with her head covered, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Maryam Nawaz entered the Sacred Heart Cathedral for prayer on the eve of September 1. “This is a historical day for us that our daughter Maryam Nawaz has come to this historic cathedral,” Lahore Archbishop Sebastian Shaw welcomed Maryam along with Bishop Azad Marshal, Senator Kamran Michael and Provincial Human Rights Minister Khalil Tahir Sandhu. The primary purpose of the visit was prayer for Kulsoom Nawaz after the surgery. Shaw prayed for Kalsoom Nawaz’s speedy recovery and said that it was “a moment of jubilation that God has heard prayers of every one of us”. “We assure our daughter Maryam that we all are with her … our prayer is that God may change the fate of our country because of her and because of the upcoming elections … The darkness may end! A network of roads will be spread and CEPC will bring huge investment.” The archbishop then raised the issue of two church properties – Gosha-e-Aman and Anarkali Saint Francis – allegedly encroached upon by land mafia. He urged Maryam to get them vacated. Maryam’s politically charged speech: “Our values are similar to the extent that my name is after the great personality of Mary (the mother of Jesus),” Maryam Nawaz stated from the church pulpit (even Catholic nuns are not allowed to address from the pulpit). She recalled that in the 2013 election campaign, she went to a church, The Salvation Army in the NA-120 constituency, where pastors laid hands on her and she received a great peace of heart and “Allah granted victory” to her father. She then criticised state institutions for disqualifying Nawaz Sharif. Catholic Church extends an apology: Maryam’s speech was aired on several TV channels at the prime time. Within minutes, condemnation was poured on ecclesiastical polity and minority politicians for the sacrilegious act. A former minority lawmaker, who now belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, sought registration of a blasphemy case against the clergy and those at the stage. Letters were written to the Vatican to take action against the archbishop. The Catholic Cannon Law says: “They (the clerics) are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labour unions unless, in the judgment of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.” Dr Yaqoob Bangash, a historian, believes that there has been no precedence of this incident in the recent memory of Pakistan. He posted on Facebook that church could not actively take part in politics, and the Catholic Cannon law “further notes that all the faithful should be ‘outside’ the ‘presbyterium’ during liturgical celebrations”. (The Bishop Marshal is also outside the Catholic college of priests so his presence at the Holy Altar was also questioned.) Giving an interview to AsiaNews, Archbishop Shaw said: “I wanted to stop her but millions were watching live on their television screens. At one moment, I decided to walkout as boycott, but then it could have been detrimental for Church relations with authorities.” Vicar general of Lahore archdiocese Father Gulzar Francis extended an apology through a video message: “Archbishop Sebastian Shaw and the church administration are sorry for this. It is decided that the doors of the church are open for everyone for prayer but from now on no one will be allowed to use the church platform for political purposes.” Zoe Richards, Barrister and Fulbright Masters of Law, believes that the Cannon Law is not breached. “We cannot look at things clinically, devoid of socio-economic and political landscape that currently challenges the Christian community in Pakistan.” “The church and politics cannot be held separate and the Christian community should be recognised with a strong vote bank.” She also quotes Rev Dr King Martin Luther Jr for using the pulpit for achieving greater emancipation for his people. But PML-N MPA Mary Gill believes it is more about the breach of the Catholic Canon Law. “During 2013 general elections, I arranged an event for Maryam Nawaz in the Salvation Army Church in NA-120 and no one questioned it.” On May 12, daily Dawn reported: “Various Christian organisations and churches on Thursday announced joining Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its campaign against the ‘corrupt’ prime minister.” How a church could join a political party, Gill asks. “No one raised eyebrows on this because it was the PTI and these were Protestant churches.” Theological differences: In the Catholic worldview, the entire “liturgical life of the church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments.” The liturgical rites are only performed by the clergy; hence, there is distinction between the clergy and laity. But in Protestantism there is no such distinction. Protestantism advocates for the universal priesthood of believers. Martin Luther: “a simple layman armed with scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it”. Hence, in Protestant non-liturgical denominations, there is not a reserved sanctuary which is exclusively priest’s prerogative to approach. Doctoral student of theological studies at the prestigious American Fuller Theological Seminary says that Protestants do not have a concept of altar as compare to Roman Catholics. “During the Protestant Reformation, some people felt that the traditional term was theologically misleading. As a result, many people preferred to call it a Communion Table.” The Catholic Church: The cathedral falls in NA-120 constituency where the PML-N has won in 2002, 2008 and 2013 elections with a very good margin. After Nawaz Sharif disqualified from the premiership, by-election are to be held on this vacant seat today and Kulsoom is the PML-N’s candidate. There are more than 300,000 registered voters in this constituency and it is estimated that about 20,000 voters are Christian, who can swing the results. In 1911, the Catholics were only 6 percent of the total Christian population in the Punjab, rest were Protestant. In 1949, they were still only about 25 of Pakistan’s Christian population (including Goan and Anlgo-Indian Catholics of Karachi). Today, Catholics account for at least 50 percent of the total Christian population; hence, Maryam’s going to the Catholic Church meant almost 50 percent of the Christian vote. Catholic Church in politics: During the separate electorate system (1979-2002), the importance of the church in politics grew manifold. The church, especially the Catholic Church, became active in politics as only those candidates got elected who had backing of the church. Many in the church leadership had closer ties with General (r) Ziaul Haq. Declaration of Ahmedis as non-Muslims in 1974 through the Second Constitutional Amendment, made it necessary to introduce minority seats in parliament, which was done for the first time in 1977 elections. Catholic Father Derek Misquita was one of the six minority federal parliamentarians in Bhutto’s 1977 government. Later, Catholic Father Rufin Julius was elected during Benazir Bhutto’s tenure (1988-1990) as the minister of minority affairs. In 2002, General Pervez Musharraf struck down the separate electorate system. The joint electorate system was restored primarily at the request of the church leaders. The then Law Minister, Dr Khalid Ranja, tells that after the joint electorate system was restored, the church leaders further requested Musharraf to additionally retain the minority seats as well because minorities could not come through direct vote. But in this system, the church has lost its control over Christian parliamentarians. Some hold the view that since the assassination of minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti the Catholic Church has less influence on the government. There are rumors that the Christian Divorce Bill 2012 was stopped from being presented in the assembly through influence on Bhatti’s brother Dr Paul Bhatti in the last government (2008-2013). On the other hand, the PML-N’s confidant is a non-liturgical Protestant, Senator Kamran Michael and not the provincial Human Rights and Minority Affairs Minister Khalil Tahir Sandhu. Senator Michael is closer to televangelist Pastor Anwar Fazal who draws thousands in his church programmes. Fazal, himself a non-liturgical Protestant, invites political leaders, including Maryam Nawaz, on the church stage. In this political scenario, the church is urging the government to bring back the electoral system for minorities. The proposed voting on minority reserved seats will create more minority-majority rift than mainstreaming minorities but this fallout is being ignored. During the local bodies elections in 2015, church leaders, including Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, blocked the Mall Road in front of the Punjab Assembly. Shaw told the media that it is the “latest attack on our rights that we as voter have been deprived to elect our own representative through our direct vote [It is] clearly a political apartheid.” On September 1, the Catholic Church, probably in desperation, replicated the Kamran-Fazal religio-political model but that backfired because of the liturgical nature of the Catholic Church. Christians of NA-120: In this entire theological and political firestorm, there is no mention of Christians in the constituency. Pakistan People’s Party candidate Faisal Mir says there must be 20,000 or more Christians in the constituency. “Nawaz Sharif won three times from here but these poor fellows are forced to buy water. Most of them work as sanitary workers. Many of the new generation are educated and don’t want to do the sanitation jobs; hence, they are suffering a very high unemployment. The patches of Christian neighbourhoods are nothing more than dust and dirt without basic amenities available to them.” Published in Daily Times, September 17th 2017.