The Charity of the Pope

President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, told Traces about his trip to Pakistan at the end of October. The courage of the missionaries and the fatherhood of John Paul II, always present in time of need


He lives days of waiting and anguish about the fate of the world. From his office in the Vatican, His Excellency Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes leads the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” the hand of the Pope which reaches the needy populations of the earth. He brings the charity of the Church, which is not simple almsgiving, but the concrete possibility to pick up again, and thus a sure hope. Hence, in the very days when the mission “Enduring Freedom” was starting in Afghanistan, Archbishop Cordes flew to Pakistan, sent by John Paul II to be among the Pakistani Catholics and Afghan refugees. Here is the President of “Cor Unum”’s report of that experience as we heard it directly from him.

Your Excellency, at the end of October you went to Pakistan as the Holy Father’s envoy. What struck you most during your visit there?
On October 27th, a Sunday morning, returning from Shamshatoo, we stopped in a parish run by an Irish missionary with local Sisters. Here we received a phone call telling us about the attack on Christians in the church in Bahawalpur. They spoke of numerous dead. Our escort who was accompanying us was terrified. According to our schedule, we were supposed to go to Rawalpindi, about 60 miles from the site of the attack, to celebrate Mass in the cathedral. Some thought we should postpone Mass because it would be dangerous. I too was somewhat undecided. But then it was thought it was better to confirm the celebration, also so as not to worsen the climate of alarm. Four hundred Christians turned up. The courage of their faith struck me, remembering also that here sometimes people are afraid to go to Mass because it is cold…

What was the purpose of your trip and whom did you meet?
John Paul II always gives a sign of participation anywhere people are going through trials. He remembers them in his Sunday Angelus, during audiences, or even during his travels, if he goes to nearby countries. The Pope is not a politician and cannot go everywhere, and so he sends a personal representative. The purpose is this: to show that the Pope is close to them. I have often been entrusted with this task. Sometimes journalists ask me, “How much money do you take with you?” I answer somewhat provocatively, “Money can be sent more easily today through the bank. The reason for my trip is not money. The Pope sends me because anyone who is in need will ask more for a person than for material aid.”

In the handwritten message which he gave me to take to the Bishops, to Catholics, and to all Pakistanis, the Holy Father first of all assured them of his prayers for all who are suffering. He asked all men, and in particular the politicians, to make their contribution in this moment so that peace may be re-established. He also charged me with studying with the Bishops and the representatives of Catholic aid agencies concrete ways of organizing this assistance.

These were the salient points of my visit. I met all the Bishops of Pakistan, the priests, and the religious who serve the Gospel in that Church. I visited the refugee camps in Shamshatoo and celebrated the Eucharist with the Catholics of Rawalpindi. I also had a talk with the Minister for Religious Minorities. Then, in a long audience, I met with the President of Pakistan, General Musharraf, a Muslim who esteems the Catholic Church and is determined to safeguard her even in such a grave moment.

What is the situation of the Catholic community and how is it facing the challenges in this hour of trial?
It seems paradoxical, but the situation of Catholics is not one of particular danger: Bishop of Multan Andrew Francis, responsible within the Episcopal Conference for the contacts with Islam, stated that relations with the Muslims are peaceful, if not friendly. He often prays with them in his city. Besides, the number of Christians in Pakistan is so small–not even 1% of the population–that they do not have real social, political, or economic weight. Their problems come more from the fact that they live spread out, far away from each other. The Koranic schools run by the Taliban can certainly be a danger. These schools, even though their adepts represent a minority of the population, have accumulated a great aggressive potential against other Muslims and against Christians, for the Taliban see Christians as representing the West. Nonetheless, in my talk with the Western religious and missionaries operating in the country, I noted a great willingness not to leave their mission, even under threat. I encouraged them to stay; only a mercenary runs away if he sees the wolves coming!

What contribution does the Holy See offer the peoples of this region, and thus the possibility of “a just and lasting peace,” to use John Paul II’s term?
The Pope’s appeals have been clear: his insistent urging to pray the Rosary during October, the day of fasting on December 14th and of prayer for peace on January 24, 2002, will certainly bear fruit. They may seem useless in the eyes of the world, but for God they are important, because this changes man’s heart. It seems to me important that the Pope recalls first and foremost the spiritual weapons which the Church possesses. Conversely, we know that it was an enemy of the faith who asked how many divisions the Pope had. Today, everyone knows that arms are not the best solution for winning, but many, also among Christians, would like to make the Pope the Secretary General of the United Nations. This would entail a grave equivocation. On the other hand, it is evident that the Church has always used her relations with governments to promote solutions that respect the dignity of the person. All this does not come about in a spectacular fashion, but mainly with a patience which always seeks the positive, even when it is hanging by a thread. Furthermore, we must not forget the weighty moral authority of the Holy See, nor the great credit which the current Pontiff enjoys among the powerful of the earth.