Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

he Iraq situation and the continuous terrorism that creates retaliation add increasing suffering to the Islamic populations. Pakistan, bordering with Afghanistan, is one of them. Friar Matsumoto Koohiro who is working in an institution for the disabled, Rahat Gah or 'Peaceful Garden' in Pakistan, returned temporarily to Japan and I interviewed him about his present job and the national situation.
Friar Matsumoto explained the reasons why he came back. "Public order has worsened. Robbers with guns that shot at random and kidnapped the children attacked the car that brought the children of the institution, Rahat Gah. They stole the car and the children were finally freed, but the shock received by the children was so strong that they became psychologically wounded in their hearts. The staff of the institution held an emergency meeting with the parents of the children and decided to close the institution for a while in order to take care of the overall health of the children. On the other hand, since the numbers of children looking for admission is on the increase, there is a need to expand the facilities and prepare a scholarship system. That is the reason why I came back home. The national situation is by no means safe."
Friar Matsumoto continued explaining in detail the difficulties of evangelization in an environment of different customs and culture: "Evangelization in Muslim Pakistan proceeds slowly. 98% of the population is Islamic and a majority are fundamentalists. In neighboring Afghanistan people tend to support Bin Laden. Muslim factions like the Shi'a and Sunni engage often in skirmish fighting. Just to offer a little example, Muslims do not drink alcohol and since there is no public production of mass wine, if Christians would produce wine in Muslim territory it could occasion a serious problem. In sites where Christians live, contemplative Dominican nuns produce mass wine without creating any public issue. On the other hand, there are contradictions also because Pakistani made wine can be bought. Christian institutions are sometimes destroyed without any visible reason and, as different from Japan, people must understand that they could endanger their lives if they try to organize inter-religious gatherings or prayer meetings for peace.
Again, Christians themselves must carefully respect the cultural background and Islamic customs, like, for instance, with regard to the use of alcohol. As a result of the influence of Islamic spirituality and customs, "even Christians should not drink alcohol," what makes evangelization difficult to implement."
But, in spite of such difficult situations, one must be mindful of respecting coexistence. One must recognize that even Christians are imbued in Islamic culture. Women must cover their faces in public following the Islamic custom that permeates ordinary life. In children's institutions common daily customs must be respected as well as Islamic holidays. Except in the case of fundamentalist groups, prayers are offered at School before events and special sport activities, following Islamic and Christian rites. It is important to respect coexistence.
Friar Matsumoto gave further explanations regarding his experiences working in a welfare institution: "We perform religious plays in Catholic institutions, no matter the parents of the children are Muslims. They understand, because the play is part of the educational program of the institution and it helps the development of the qualities of the disabled children. It would be different if the children would not have disabilities. I really felt that the involvement to overcome those disabilities is a common issue that provides an occasion to go over religious differences."
Friar Matsumoto has already returned to his work in Pakistan where the children are waiting for him.

A Request

In Pakistan the welfare system is still in its beginnings. There is no official assistance and even when the children reach age 15 they cannot find work and consequently they cannot become independent. To solve this, the "Rahat Gah" institution has plans to extend the period for children to remain at the institution in order to learn vocational skills. Many families fail to pay tuition and since neither the institution nor the parents can afford the expenses, the situation is very severe. A foster parent system has been organized and we are looking for generous collaborators. Please contact Fr. Abe Keita.

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