FRANK FLEGEL, Prairie Messenger
November 17, 2010
REGINA — You learn what it means to be a Christian when you live as a minority in a Muslim nation, said Friar Anthony Gonsalves, OFM, at an ecumenical workshop held Nov. 6 at Miller High School in Regina.
Gonsalves was born in British India, but completed his education and was ordained in what is now Pakistan, where he served in various posts before coming to Canada in 1993. For the past three years he has been at St. Michael’s Retreat House at Lumsden, Sask.
Pakistan was established as an Islamic state under Shariah law. Because of that, Christians came together to settle disputes among themselves.
“Mixed marriages were often arranged, and they promised to bring up children in the Catholic faith. The bishops would give advanced dispensation. What was said in Rome didn’t always apply,” said Gonsalves.
He gave a couple of examples where the Christian community came together and approached government to change the laws.
“Christians were to be given different coloured IDs which would identify them as Christians.” Christians requested a change, which was granted.
Wine for communion was a also a problem because Islamic law forbids alcohol. Again, Christians together approached the government and the law was changed so wine was made available for church use only.
A Methodist bishop was to be ordained and Gonsalves was asked to represent a local Catholic bishop. Because Gonsalves received communion at the ordination service, a papal nuncio later objected. “We have to respect the human relationship, not the rules, and recognize that we are all followers of Jesus Christ,” said Gonsalves.
Because of 9/11, many people now fear Muslims, but Gonsalves said in his Pakistan experience it is only the radicals who are a problem.
Muslims, he said, are a very welcoming people. He referred to the new Calgary mayor, who is a member of a non-radical branch of Islam.
“They have no beggars because they help each other.”
Christians worked together to help Muslims, said Gonsalves, giving the example of the recent flooding where the government gave the money to Christians to help flood victims because it recognized Christians would be more helpful.
Gonsalves also spoke of a German nun who through her efforts dramatically reduced the incidence of leprosy among Muslims. “Her field workers were all Christian.”
When you live like that, he said, “you learn what it means to be a Christian.”