Retired Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha marked 60 years of priesthood with a celebation on Jan. 16. The former archbishop of Lahore became a Canadian citizen in 2016. Photo courtesy the Saldanha family

After 60 years, zeal for justice remains

  • January 25, 2020

Celebrating 60 years of priesthood, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, who migrated to Toronto after his retirement in Pakistan, has taken up the cause of supporting persecuted Pakistani Christians who seek asylum in Canada.

The former archbishop of Lahore, who moved to Canada shortly after his retirement in 2011, celebrated his 60th anniversary with family and friends on Jan. 16 at Precious Blood Parish in Scarborough, Ont., where he had served prior to returning in 2001 to his native Pakistan as archbishop of Lahore. He became a Canadian citizen in 2016.

“We live in a dark and dangerous world that is threatened by climate change, wars, economic hardships and large-scale migrations,” the 83-year-old archbishop told in an e-mail. “In the past seven years, the problem of asylum-seekers has grown acutely.” 

In Pakistan, Church leaders say Christians often become the targets of violence, rape and harassment and are treated as second-class citizens for following a religion other than Islam. Besides physical violence, the judiciary and governments at all levels are habitually biased against Christians in a country where stringent regulations, such as the blasphemy law that stipulate capital punishment, are used to settle personal scores, they say.

Saldanha spoke of the many Pakistanis who have left their country. Some 1,500 asylum-seekers from Pakistan — most without proper refugee status — are living in and around Bangkok, Thailand. 

“A few have been successful” in finding asylum, but “hundreds are stranded and face misery and hardship in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia,” said the archbishop.

“I would like to help more Christians migrate, but I am unable to do so because of Canadian policies. The present mood is not so favourable toward new immigrants. Still, I have appealed to the authorities to admit more Christian refugees on a humanitarian basis,” he said.

The Archdiocese of Toronto is spearheading a Canadian effort to resettle several dozens of  Pakistani refugee families from Thailand. To date, 17 cases have been submitted for approval to Immigration Canada. In addition to Toronto, eight other Canadian dioceses have expressed a willingness to sponsor one of more of these families. But it is a slow process, taking up to 29 months per application.

The migration process “is very expensive” and takes more than two years, Saldanha said. But he looks forward to helping “some deserving cases of new Pakistani immigrant families who have been sponsored by parishes in Canada.”

He said Catholics in Canada “have little understanding of the complex problems of the Church in Pakistan. It is quite a different situation.”

“I am sorry to observe the growing unjust and inhumane treatment of minorities” in Pakistan, he said.

“They have to deal with an extremist ideology which favours forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls. The nationalization of Christian educational institutions is another challenge.”

When the Toronto archdiocese dedicated its World Day of Migrants and Refugees to Pakistani Christians last September, the archbishop gave a presentation on the challenges faced by Pakistan’s Christians, including exploitation and abuses faced by women from religious minorities.

The Center for Social Justice, a Lahore-based nongovernmental organization, recorded 160 cases of forced conversions, forced marriages and related crimes involving minority women and minor girls between 2013 and 2019.

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