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Christians in the Muslim World

The Beauty of Pakistan in a Lahore Catholic School

When, seven years ago, the Salesians began their activity in the city of Lahore, just 53 km from the Indian border, they could hardly imagine the rapid progress of their Technical Centre in a country notorious for its violence and religious extremism. The Don Bosco Technical and Youth Centre is today a concrete reality with more than 150 young people enrolling every year. There are four courses: Car-mechanics, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, Welding & Metalwork and Electricity. The Centre has 110 Catholic boarders out of a total 150 students. The non-Catholic students are Christians of various denominations and also Muslims. Our boys have achieved excellent results at their final exams in recent years so as to beat the record of 100% diploma-holders in two of the four courses. In order to continue this service to the local Christian community as well as some basic form of interreligious dialogue we are implementing a three-year plan whereby all our students will attend a course of basic education before moving on to technical training (more than 100 of the boys who come here are school drop-outs). We are building new, larger premises to allow cooperation with the local industry; some of our young people are training? will train? have trained??? abroad, there will be regular refresher courses for our staff and the arrival of equipment and machinery from abroad to make our Centre one of the most advanced of the country -- to serve the poor!

 

The most interesting thing is perhaps the fact that we have never encountered any problems among the students or with government staff. We have always had the respect and admiration of all our visitors -- well, almost all. One aspect which we intend to keep unaltered in future years is our strong Catholic identity. I believe that we are one of the few Catholic schools in Pakistan to begin the day with an assembly that includes the prayers of the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Our Muslim students attend together with the others in silence, out of respect for our moment of prayer. This is something we have observed locally: no academic event begins without reciting [some verses from] the Koran. Hence, if our Centre is Catholic, why should we renounce expressing our faith as such? Obviously the number of Muslim students is limited. The atmosphere in our Technical Centre is friendly: it is interesting to see every year how shyly the Muslim minority interacts with the rest of the student community -- but this is hardly surprising when we think that in countryside schools Christian students cannot even drink water from the wells or take part in games involving physical contact (physical contact with a non-Muslim is still considered impure in many rural areas). You can imagine the extent of the challenge of integrating the two groups in our school: our Muslim students begin by calling you "Sir" and end by calling you "Father" the day they get their diploma, while our Christian students accept them in their games and in fact listen with attention as they speak during the morning assembly whenever nearing the time of a Muslim festival. Little by little, without sensationalism but with a lot of love, we continue to build this institution which is called to be a sign of hope for thousands of local youths. There are more beautiful things in this country than the ordinary image we have of it. These young people deserve our best and we are trying to give it to them.

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