Bishop Andrew Francis; a Dynamic Local Religious Leader. By Fr. Inayat Bernard
From my Seminary days, I came to know Fr. Andrew Francis when he was ordained priest on the 10th of January, 1972. That time I was studying at St. Mary’s Seminary. I am going to write a few lines in his honor what I have learnt from him and have seen him working for the faithful in difference fields of life.
As the priest of the Archdiocese of Lahore
After obtaining doctorate degree from the University of the Philippines, he came back to Pakistan and as the parish priest of St. Anthony’s he formed a lay group called SARA GHARANA. It was composed of the catechists, laymen and laywomen in this religious group. It had the main mission to conduct healing services called (duaia shifaia) activities. They went with him to different parishes of the diocese and other cities as well. The other parishes adopted this charismatic style of worship and it spread throughout the country and the several denominations have taken up with full fervor.
It was his initiative that he conducted Eucharistic adoration convention at the Railway Stadium of Lahore. It was to boost our spirits that we are very much part of the country and equal citizens of the country. The mass was organized in the stadium and good reception of the fathers, sisters and the laity coming from the whole of Punjab province.
Another and most important and historical work was to organize the procession of Christ the King from St. Anthony to the Sacred Heart Cathedral. When we would reach the Chairing Cross/Faisal Chowk the traffic would stop and with the blessing by the Blessed Sacrament would be faith thrilling. What a great religious atmosphere and an effective witness for other religions. In the course of time it has died down now said to be due to security concerns.
When he became the editor- in- chief of the oldest catholic fortnightly Catholic Naqib, he brought it to the status of modern journalism.
It was his initiative to start the Tuesday mass in honor of St. Anthony and now it has spread in the whole Archdiocese of Lahore.
On 16th February 1981, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II made a stop over to Karachi on his way from Rome to Manila and said mass in the National Stadium of Karachi. Filled with over 120,000 faithful, he went down on the stage and moved people with the welcoming slogans for the Holy Father. It was the proof of his dynamic personality.
As the dynamic leader in the Archdiocese of Lahore
In February 1986 the Rahimyar Khan Church was attacked by the youngsters and we had a great procession in Lahore. It was his courage that he participated in this procession for the rights of the Christians of Multan diocese.
Later in 1997 Shanti Nagar village was burnt by the fanatics and the governor of Punjab that time Shahid Haamid sent a Christian-Muslim delegation there for reconciliation process. With Fr. Andrew Francis we joined who were Frs. Benjamin Joseph, Rehmat Raja, Francis Nadeem and me. Maulana Azad was the leader of this delegation.
As the 5th Bishop of Multan
Fr. Andrew Francis was ordained 5th Bishop of Multan on the 26th of February 2000 despite lot of opposition to his appointment. He spent his time to be the pastor of the faithful in Multan.
On 28th October 2001, the Catholic Church at Bahawalpur was attacked by the terrorists and he played his dynamic role to fight for the justice towards the martyrs of Bahawalpur.
During the occasional floods in the River Chenab, he spent his time with the flood affected Muslims and Christians. There was no distinction of any religion or denomination because he believed deeply that the mission of Jesus was to give his life for all humanity. Most of the Muslim flood effected benefited financially for their rehabilitation.
He made all the institutions in the diocese vibrant and motivated them to spend their time and resources for the Christians’ educational and religious development.
It was his initiative to make the Cathedral dome and used Multani cultural tiles to make it inculturated Cathedral. It is an historical event which will be remembered for ages.
Sensing the land of the mystics he started a monthly Urdu magazine called Awaz-e-Auylia (Voice of the mystics). It included religious, social and mystic articles with the editorial which were written by him at times.
As the National Leader
Fr. Francis Nadeem OFM Cap as the Executive Secretary of National Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism and me as the spokesperson of the Commission.
Under his guidance during our Lent we went to the Mosque of Maulana Tahir ul Qadri at Model Town. It was there that he presented the Holy Bible to him and in return Maulana presented him the Holy Quran. This exchange was criticized in the national media but he went ahead to bring peace and promote reconciliation and social harmony among religions.
As the chairman of the Commission he invited the religious leaders in Multan and different parts of the country and promoted Ecumenism.
In the special mass on the occasion of his 10th Episcopal anniversary, the church of Pakistan Bishop Samuel was invited to the mass. After the mass we were sitting in the drawing room of the Multan Bishop’s house and Dr. Khalid Ranjha, the federal minister of Law, commented that we cannot imagine to go to one another’s place of worship and he was impressed that the Catholics and protestants were praying together.
As also the Chairman of the National Catholic Literature Board he got some encyclicals of the Popes translated and encouraged to write books on different topics. He himself wrote several books about the Holy Hour, Charismatic movement in Pakistan and on several topics.
As an International Personality
In UNO he presented about the life of the Christians. He made it clear to the international community how they go through their life despite difficulties and problems.
I experienced his international deep contact with German friends. I had to see the Holy Father Pope John Paul II on 5th December 2003 in connectional of the 75th anniversary of the Union of International Catholic Press. I was refused the Italian Visa despite the letter of the Nuncio and my Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha. I contacted Bishop Andrew in Multan and he made it possible to get the invitation letter and visa of Germany and that is how I was able to see the Holy Father.
These are my personal experiences about Bishop Andrew Francis. May his soul rest in peace. Amen