DIARY: Canon Jeremy's Pakistan Pilgrimage

Canon Jeremy Bath shares his Pakistan Diary, following his visit there this summer.

His aim was to discover more about the Catholic Church in the country and what life is like for Christians.


Sunday 11 June

Just about to land in Faisalabad. Been travelling nearly 16 hours. Nearly did not get on the plane as I had trouble accessing my Covid passport.  A man gave up his seat on the airport bus as he saw me as a senior citizen! I forget these things.  Able to pray the office in the Airport and an air hostess from Lebanon greeted me as she saw I was a Catholic priest.

Monday 12 June

Breathtaking heat at the airport. Fr Younis met me and we travelled through crowded streets filled. The city is truly vibrant; you notice the Mosques, but no visible sign of Churches. Eventually, we turned down a muddy side to the Seminary building. Staff and students of the Seminary gave me a warm welcome.Got some rest. There was a gun in the cupboard.  Went to get fitted for specs and sandals.

Tuesday 13 June – Feast of St Anthony of Padua

Special Mass for dedication of a new Church – St Anthony of Padua. We went in procession with many priests. There were drums beating, flower petals, doves, fireworks. The Mass was three hours long – Dedication of the new beautiful Church; Many speeches, power cuts, blessings and thanksgivings!

Wednesday 14 June

Travelled to see Fr Younis’s mum and family for lunch, after buying more Pakastani clothes; stupidly forgot to buy her a gift; she gave me many gifts; her love and goodness was touching. Went to a new church - St Joseph’s in Mahalam. The village was rural – there were animals, children, flies, heat and dust, but also smiles, joy, music, dancing, singing – the love of God. I made a little speech, translated, and the people were so warm and friendly. A man sang a song all about how Fr Younis built the church, it was captivating to hear and it nearly brought me to tears. Stayed in local convent.

Thursday 15 June

Awoke in the convent. You get a sense that the sisters are a vital resource for these people and for the priest; providing education and pastoral care to poor people. I can’t believe the teachers are paid as little as the equivalent of £4.00 per week.

Later in the morning we met with the local Muslim community leader, Mr Nassar, he was friendly and courteous. I was warned to be prudent on what I discussed; there are legal and religious sensitiveness about discussing issues such as blasphemy laws and the intolerance of Muslims becoming Christian.

The consequences are serious for the person and their families. I mentioned the positive progress that is being made in interreligious dialogue in Scotland; that the Scottish First Minister is Muslim and we departed on positive terms. I now have Pakistani clothes to wear, which are more comfortable in the heat.

Friday 16 June - Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

This beautiful feast of the Church started with Mass in the College Chapel, followed by a very restful day in the seminary. It was good to have time to read, reflect and journal.

Saturday 17 June

At 4:30 pm we headed off Northwards to the Murnee Mountain range north of Islamabad.  It was a long haul at that time of the day – nearly 400 miles.  On the way, we passed hundreds of trucks taking cattle and goats up for Eid – a big Muslim feast, when on the 29 June they slaughter the animals for a religious reason I’m not familiar with.  The animals do not seem to be treated well – which is distressing to see.  One truck with cows turned over on the roadside.  Several dead from their injuries.

Sunday 18 June 2023

In the morning when you opened the curtains, you saw the beauty and grandeur of the scenery – mountain ranges stretching into the distance – even as far as India Kashmir. After breakfast and morning prayer we decided to venture out to visit the scenery – a profusion of colour on the roadside as the enterprising traders sold their wares; colourful umbrellas, coconuts, shawls of many colours and patterns, beautiful Arabian horses to ride; carpets, tea stalls, maize roasted on fires, candy floss – all at 8,000 ft on steep mountain roadside.

There were monkeys waiting for a banana; cattle and goats grazing, motorbikes with overloaded family; horns tooting all along the way – wild daisy flowers being knitted into crowns by little children holding out garlands on their thin arms trying to earn a little money.

Monday 19 June 2023

We headed off about midday after saying goodbye to all the hotel staff including Tohid, the manager who was gracious.  The journey homeward took about eight hours in searing heat, thank goodness for the A.C. in the car.  Again, all the way from the mountains to the plain of Islamabad was trading at the roadside.  If you stopped, even for a few seconds in the village, people. The distinction between the elite and the destitute is there to see; even a woman begging at the roadside while her small child lay in a wheelchair; Fr Younis said it was professional begging; even if that be so; it is a sad manifestation of human existence. Amongst the dust and heat of Faisalabad we journeyed on to the highway south.  We came back to a warm reception from the students, clean clothes, shower, slipper and night prayer.  Now time to reflect and prepare for the journey homeward.

Tuesday, 20 June 2023

What have I learned from this experience?  Firstly, the Catholic Church in Pakistan is, alongside all Christians, a subjugated minority who are not afforded the same rights, freedom and dignity of the majority Muslim community.  The Blasphemy Laws are truly dangerous for Christians – with every possibility of an innocent person being put to death for spurious reasons.

They (the Christians) recognise the importance of dialogue in dealing with local disputes and giving reassurances that either party is not actively seeking to ‘poach’ people into their own religion.  Though ultimately the Christians are much weaker from a juridical position in getting their appeals upheld.  The army and police is dominated by the Islamic Way of life.

That in Pakistan, people work hard to survive, often with little or no resources.  The stalls and trading reflect lives that will do anything to make a living; especially for the poorer and lower caste; many of whom are Christians.

Don’t come here if you are sensitive to animal welfare – donkeys, dogs, cattle and birds are here to fulfil an essential purpose – sentimentalism does not really get a look in from what I see – please God there are some who care.

You see here a vivid expression of the call of Christ to carry your cross courageously.  Remember the past Archbishop, John Joseph took his own life outside the High Court in 1998 in dealing with a blasphemy case.

The Church like any institution of power is vulnerable to corruption, but must be careful to be a contradiction to the prevailing culture; to be a ‘Beacon of truth, honesty, justice and compassion’; otherwise the faithful will lose heart and confidence in our Church leaders. they must always remember they are in a position of trust, that is sourced ultimately in their being an Ordained Servant of Christ.

If we as priests, are met ‘Persona Christi’ to our people, then we are of no use to them and will lose our mandate to govern the Church on earth.  As Jesus says ‘Be responsible stewards so when your Master calls, he will find you hard at work for the Kingdom’.

So overall, it’s been an enlightening experience to come to Fr Younis’ home country; the warm welcome has never left me; the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Seminary community.

Fr Jeremy Bath is parish priest at St Machan's in Lennoxtown and is Vicar Episcopal for the Archdiocesan commission for Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue. Read the unabridged diary here.

EVENT: Training Day for Catholics in health and care sector

Explore the unique contribution that faith makes to the health and care sector at Catholics in Health and Social Care: Ethics and Practice.

It is a training day for those who are interested in learning about the ethical challenges of work in this sector looking and an opportunity to meet people motivated by their faith to care for others.

It takes place at The Gillis Centre, 100 Strathearn Road, Edinburgh, on Saturday 19 March from 9:30am to 3:30pm. Register here.

The event features:

Speakers will lead discussions on assisted suicide, hope-filled accompaniment for those who are dying, conscientious objection and arising policy challenges.

It is one of three training days organised by St Mary’s University, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre and the Bios Centre.

The event will also discuss the appropriate Christian response to a wide range of challenges affecting practice in health and social care.

Although a Catholic ethical approach will be taken in most sessions, the events will be helpful for any Christian or, indeed, anybody who is concerned about the ethical challenges for practitioners that are developing in the health and social care sector.

Catholics in Health and Social Care: Ethics and Practice takes place on Saturday 19 March from 9:30am to 3:30pm at The Gillis Centre, 100 Strathearn Road, Edinburgh. The event costs £20 and you can register here. For more information please contact marianne.rozario@stmarys.ac.uk

Scottish church leaders respond to foreign policy and defence review

Bishop William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway and President of the Commission for Justice and Peace Scotland, has joined seven other Scottish church leaders in signing a statement responding to the UK Government’s integrated review of foreign and defence policies.

The review, discussed in the UK Parliament on Tuesday, proposed removing the cap on the number of nuclear weapons stockpiled, allowing for an increase of up to 40%.

The statement

The UK Government’s decision to increase the number of Trident nuclear warheads the UK can stockpile by more than 40% is a deeply worrying development.

The move, part of the integrated review of defence, security and foreign policy, is a retrograde step which threatens the common good and reverses nearly 30 years of gradual disarmament.

The decision is a contravention of the UK’s obligations under the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty and undermines the international rules-based order. It ignores the growing global movement in support of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which calls for ‘the irreversible, verifiable and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons’.

For many years, Scottish churches have agreed that the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons is immoral and their very possession should be condemned in a world that needs peace.

The financial cost of a larger nuclear arsenal cannot be justified in the face of the UK’s high rates of poverty and deprivation, and the challenges of the climate emergency and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK must take its responsibilities and Treaty obligations seriously, strive for global nuclear disarmament, and work towards peaceful and cooperative international relationships.


This article first appeared on the website of the Catholic Parliamentary Office.

Christians come together to help the homeless

Catholic volunteers are stepping up to help the homeless this Christmas along with other Christian churches.

They are part of catering teams doing shifts at the Bethany Christian Trust project in Gorgie Road, Edinburgh.

The winter care shelter runs for 32 weeks until 3 May. Last year it welcomed 746 homeless people.

In August, Rab Burnett (below), a parishioner at the Ss Ninian and Triduana church in the city, called on fellow Catholics to contribute to the running of the shelter.


This week he said: "There are now seven Catholic parishes involved Sacred Heart, South Edinburgh Cluster, St John the Baptist, St John & St Mary Magdalene's, St Margaret's, St Ninian's, and St Patrick's. Altogether they cover 30 evenings.

"Catering teams provide the hot meals and more on the 224 nights that the shelter is open. There are 68 churches (of different denominations) involved, ranging from Cumbernauld to North Berwick."

Buy a Bed

The Bethany Christian Trust has launched its Buy a Bed campaign. For just £21, supporters can sponsor a bed at the Winter Care Shelter for someone who is homeless and who would otherwise be forced to sleep outside. They also get a hot meal. To find out more click here.

Craig’s story*

Craig had come to Edinburgh having been living in England. Very quickly he found work through an agency but wasn’t yet able to afford somewhere to stay. He would ask shelter staff to wake him up at 4am so he could get to work on time. The agency work was unreliable and so he applied for a job as a kitchen porter in an upmarket restaurant. One night he shared with staff that he had an interview the next day, and they were soon delighted to learn he had got the job, Craig didn’t stay every night, he would pay for a night in a hostel or budget hotel when he could afford it.

Craig was worried about getting his chef whites laundered and being able to hold onto his job until his first paycheck came through. Working while staying in a shelter is not easy.

One night, he met with the Care Shelter Link Workers who carry out provisional homeless assessments to determine whether people are eligible for temporary accommodation through the council. Craig went through an assessment and was able to be accommodated the next day. He stayed 14 nights at the Care Shelter.

*Name changed.



Catholics to 'kick-start' Advent with carols at Nativity scene

Archbishop Leo Cushley is encouraging Catholics to 'kick-start' their Advent at the annual Nativity Carol Concert in Edinburgh.

The ecumenical event will see carols sung by Blackhall St Columba’s Choir, St Andrew’s and St Georges West Choir, Wester Hailes Education Centre Choir, and the Salvation Army Brass Band. The Nativity Scene itself is donated by Catholic businessman and entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer and his wife.

The free event takes place on Sunday 1 December at 3pm and will be at a new location on The Mound in the city centre.

Archbishop Leo Cushley said: “It’s a great way to kick-start the Advent season. Choirs singing carols, a beautifully lit nativity scene and The Salvation Army bringing the brass! It’s also a positive witness of our Catholic faith -  a chance to show the joy that comes from trusting in God by singing His praise.

"In these days when religion is often pushed to the margins, we’ll be together in a busy city centre location, with other Christians, to announce the Good News of the coming of the Saviour. A special thanks to Sir Tom and Lady Farmer for continuing to donate the nativity scene each year.

"I’m looking forward to blessing the crib, and if it’s a cold day, some enthusiastic carol singing will help keep us all warm!”

Professor Robin Gill on 'The Future of Christian Ethics'

The Catholic chaplain at Edinburgh university will chair an event next week on The Future of Christian Ethics.

Father John O'Connor, a Dominican, will welcome Anglican priest Professor Robin Gill who will consider three of the existing tensions within Christian ethics that promise to be influential in shaping the future of the discipline.

These are tensions between emerging technology and Christian ethics; tensions between secular humanism and Christian ethics; and tensions between other faith traditions and Christian ethics.

He will examine the existing fruitful dialogue in each of these areas, and suggest some future directions they might take.

Professor Gill is the Emeritus Professor of Applied Theology at the University of Kent. The Anglican priest has extensively published in sociology, theology, and religious and health care ethics.

This event is hosted by the Albertus Institute for Science, Knowledge and Religion, and is co-sponsored by CTPI.

'The Future of Christian Ethics', Thursday 24th October, 7pm, Martin Hall, New College, The University of Edinburgh, Mound Place, EH1 2LX. Register at Eventbrite.