Father James Channan Interviews His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Coutts

4 June 2018, 5:30 PM

Father James Channan, URI Pakistan Regional Coordinator, presents an exclusive interview with His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Coutts.

Father James Channan Interviews His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Coutts

An introduction: 

Pope Francis made an announcement of the new Cardinals on May 20, the feast of Pentecost. This feast brought additional joy to the people of Pakistan in general, and to the Christian community in particular, as the Archbishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts, was made Cardinal.  

I was in Karachi last week and I was very fortunate to meet His  Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Coutts. I was given appointment of 15 minutes but it ended up being 2 hours. It was great to meet him for this length of time and we shared many things. He was my professor of Philosophy at Christ the King Seminary in Karachi. Later, when he was Chairman of the National Catholic Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism, and I was the Executive  Secretary, we made many profound memories of working together for this noble apostolate of Christian-Muslim dialogue - which is very challenging in Pakistan. He was also the prime supporter of the Journey of Peace "Aman Ka Safar," which was initiated and organized by URI and the Catholic Bishops Dialogue Commission. It was a 1,500-mile-long journey in which thousands of Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Bahai and Parsi joined and committed to promote interfaith dialogue and peace.

With the hope that the new millennium will bring much peace and interfaith harmony in the world, I took the interview of His Eminence, the text of which is below.  

His Eminence highly appreciates the very important work of URI in Pakistan and he wants us to "Keep it up."

- Father James Channan OP


Fr. James Channan OP is a Pakistani Dominican, former Prior Vice Provincial in the Dominican Vice Province of Ibn-e-Mariam, Pakistan, and at present, Regent of Studies and Director for Peace Center Lahore. He met His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Coutts, a newly-appointed Cardinal by His Holiness Pope Francis, as announced on 20th of May, 2018. This interview took place on 30th May, 2018 at the residence of His Eminence Coutts at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Karachi.

Fr. James Channan OP:

Your Eminence, you have been working in the field of interfaith dialogues for the past several years. You were Chairman of the National Catholic Commission for Interreligious Dialogues and Ecumenism. What do you think of Christian-Muslim Dialogue and its need in our country?

"Interreligious dialogue is something that all of us should be involved in." - His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Coutts

His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Coutts:

Interreligious dialogue is something that all of us should be involved in. This should be a part of our life, and especially now. If you are talking about Karachi, it is one of the mega-cities of the world, with the population of about 19, 20 or 21 million, We have larger groups of Hindus and Christians in Karachi. It’s a really multi-ethnic and multi-religious society over here. We also have Bahai’s, Parsis and a few Sikhs as well. So it has quite multi-religious groups here. In fact, one of the first groups who came to greet me, after my announcement made from the Vatican as a Cardinal from Pakistan, was a group of 15 to 20 people belong to 5 different religions. It was a great manifestation of their love and appreciation. So we have to learn and we are living together in close proximity.

Yet, it can happen that we begin to be distant to each other, especially in the last few decades. We have seen certain hardening positions and extremist groups that have sprung up on the basis of religion. Secondly, you have another phenomenon that people have created the ability to travel from one country to another, and it brings us closer together to different religions. But in many ways, we have not yet learned how to live together.

Dialogue is more than dialogue. It is not a verbal dialogue and it is a dialogue of life; how to accept one another, how to understand one another, how to just work together in harmony. In fact, it has already been more than half a century since the Vatican document Nostra Aetate dealt with this matter. As a Church, we should not be closed in ourselves. We have to live in this modern world, and we have to deal with other religions. We respect them. See their positive values. Yes, if you come to know dialogue and in dialogues, all these things come out. And here, as I said, in a city like Karachi, it’s very important. Also, I am pleasantly surprised to see how many people feel the same need; people of civil society of different walks of life. Here in Karachi, I have met some wonderful people of all faiths, who are very much aware of and concerned about all the kinds of terrorism on based of religion that is taking place in Pakistan. I have observed that the Mayor of Karachi, Mr. Waseem Akhtar, and Chief Minister of Sindh, Mr. Murad Ali Shah, are very much concerned about these things. They also talk about the need to promote interreligious harmony in society more and more.

"At times, Christians feel that they are going through a lot of sufferings and difficulties. Sometimes they are reluctant to reach out for dialogue." - Fr. James Channan OP

Fr. James Channan OP:

Your Eminence in Pakistan, we are as Christians are a tiny minority. At times, Christians feel that they are going through a lot of sufferings and difficulties. Sometimes they are reluctant to reach out for dialogue. In such circumstances, what message should we give to our Christian minority in Pakistan, which has to play an important role for the betterment of our society and the country? How can we encourage them to be more actively involved in promoting interfaith harmony, especially dialogue with Muslims who are a majority?

Father James Channan Interviews His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Coutts

Father James Channan OP presents His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Coutts with the latest edition of UMANG, the URI Pakistan newsletter.

His Eminence Joseph Coutts:

For me, it’s more important to have dialogue of life, not discussions or dialogues of words. We should work together on common values, and I was just saying, that in Karachi we have some outstanding personalities. And here I want to mention the late Abdul Sattar Edhi, who died a couple of years ago, and now his son Faisal Edhi is continuing the same humanitarian work as his father Edhi reached out to help people. He never ever questioned who they were, or what religion they belonged to. It was on the basis of love for humanity that he reached out to everyone. There is another beautiful example of our Christian Sister Dr. Ruth Pfau. Both of them have been great models of serving the suffering humanity. They dedicated their lives to this noble cause. They enjoyed very high status in the eyes of the people and government as well. On the day of the funeral of Dr. Pfau at St. Patrick Cathedral, thousands of non-Christians were present at her funeral to pay her tribute.

Fr. James Channan OP:

I know that Abdul Sattar Edhi and Dr. Ruth Pfau served the suffering humanity without discrimination towards anyone. Both of them have earned a great name and prestige. Edhi was a Muslim and Dr. Ruth Pfau was a Christian. It is very important that we reach out to the people of all religions and humanity. We need to be bridge builders and those who break walls of discrimination, hatred and violence. (Both Edhi and Dr. Pfau were given State Funerals in which the President of Pakistan, Governors, Chief Ministers, Mayor of the City, Chiefs of Navy, Air Force and Military and thousands of other high officials and people of all religions participated. Their funerals were given immense coverage by government-run and other TV channels. It was a great recognition and tribute to their services to all people in the country. Both of them also got highest Civil Awards from the government.)

“Please go ahead with your worship. Today is Sunday; you have a right to worship freely.” - Pakistani activists to the Christian minority

His Eminence Joseph Coutts:

That is absolutely right. We (as Christians) are also facing problems, as there were attacks on our Churches such as in Youhanabad in Lahore (on 15 March, 2015). I was very surprised that on the following Sunday, when I was celebrating Holy Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral, there was a large group of people from different religions who had formed a human chain around the Cathedral. They had come to express condolences with us and express their sorrow at the attacks on churches in Lahore. They were all non-Christians and I do not know where they were coming from. I noticed that a number of people were standing around the St. Patrick Cathedral and they were holding hands and they remained like a chain around the Church. When the Mass was over, I went out there and met them. I noticed that they were holding banners like “Freedom of worship.” All banners were related to this matter. They were all non-Christians. They showed solidarity and symbolically showed that “we are here to defend you” and said, “Please go ahead with your worship. Today is Sunday; you have a right to worship freely.”

There are many other people who think like this and we have to reach out to them. We are giving a message to society about those who are prejudiced; they begin to see what is happening. They do not want to see in words but in actions. So, what did I do? At the end of the Mass, I told the congregation, “Look out through the doors and do not be afraid; see the people standing around the Church. They all come to give condolences to us and to support us, so let’s go out and meet them to say thank you.” I went out, and as I was talking to them, they started singing national songs. There was a very beautiful and strong atmosphere of interreligious dialogue in action.

“Look out through the doors and do not be afraid; They come to support us, so let’s go out and meet them to say thank you.” - His Eminence Joseph Coutts

Fr. James Channan OP:

Your Eminence, I remember, when we entered the new millennium, we arranged a 1500-mile “Journey for Peace” from Karachi to Khyber. Your Eminence was the Chairman of the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism, and myself Executive Secretary and also Regional Coordinator for URI-Pakistan. Through this we made a significant change in Pakistan, which was very much appreciated in the world. We had started our “Journey for Peace” (Carvan-e-Aman) from Mizar-e-Quid (Tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah - the Founder of Pakistan) up to the Bab-e-Khyber in the Khyber Pakhtoon Khaw. We stopped at Hyderabad and on different points; we went from 24th December, 1999 till 4th January, 2000.

Would you like to give any message to the members of the interreligious groups of URI, working in 102 countries and in Pakistan? We have 54 groups.

"Let other people also see that we are working for interfaith dialogue and peace. Encourage them to come forward." - His Eminence Joseph Coutts

His Eminence Joseph Coutts:

Keep working, keep it up! I know this group and do very well remember when we had Aman Ka Safar. We started from the Mazar-e-Quaid and ended at Bab-e-Khyber. It was a great event of peace in Pakistan. Let other people also see that we are working for interfaith dialogue and peace. Encourage them to come forward. Actions are more important. If we take common actions, like I gave in the example of the particular groups of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Bahai’s in Karachi, it will certainly bring a great change. For example, when the Hindus came and invited me to visit their temple I said; surely I will join you.

Father James Channan Interviews His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Coutts

Fr. James Channan OP:

How do you find your role as Cardinal and what experience will you bring from Pakistan?

His Eminence Joseph Coutts:

I will keep on working basically as the Archbishop of Karachi. There is a lot of work to be done here and I will keep on doing what I am doing. I will do my best to serve as a Cardinal. My appointment by Pope Francis gives a good name to Pakistan and recognition to the Christians in Pakistan. I will bring my experience with me and serve the Church.

Fr. James Channan OP:

Thank you very much, Your Eminence, for giving such a precious time. It has been a great joy for me to meet you.