Islamabad: A Pakistani Christian whose selfie with the Pope has gone viral has spoken of his “heartache” at the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, and said the pontiff told him he was praying for peace.
Daniel Bashir, a 26-year-old doctor in Karachi, told AFP he took the selfie with the leader of the world’s Catholics during a youth conference at the Vatican last month.
He presented Pope Francis with an ajrak shawl, a traditional blockprinted garment from Sindh province, and the two posed for the picture in which the pontiff can be seen with the gift draped around his shoulders and grinning broadly.
“My heart is full of happiness,” Bashir captioned the image on Facebook.
“He was very happy to see the ajrak… I also met him personally later and gifted him a blanket,” Bashir told AFP late Friday. The pontiff then told him that he “daily prays for peace in Pakistan”, Bashir added.
The image quickly went viral and Bashir found himself in the spotlight, telling AFP he has been receiving calls from media ever since.
He said he and the pontiff also spoke of the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan, where Muslims account for more than 90 percent of the population.
Christians make up an estimated two percent of Pakistan’s more than 200 million people, and have long faced persecution — at best sidelined into lowly paid jobs and sometimes the target of trumped-up blasphemy charges or militant attacks.
Four Christians were shot dead in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group in the restive southwestern city of Quetta on April 3, just after Easter. An IS suicide bombing at a church days before Christmas last year killed eight.
“I consider myself safe in Karachi but it is painful to see the incidents with Christians and minorities,” Bashir said.
“Minorities are oppressed too much and with this reference my heart aches,” he said, though he added: “But we are happy in Pakistan.”
He said he also discussed the topic at the conference, telling fellow delegates from around the world that education would allow children in their community to “face it better”.
“Our Bible tells us that we should pray for people who hate us,” he added.
Bashir’s encounter with the Pope impressed him so much that instead of specialising in neurosurgery, as he had planned, he now wants to enter the church.
“I will present myself to become a priest and join a seminary in June,” he said.