KARACHI: More than a dozen bouquets lined Archbishop Joseph Coutts’ sittingroom making it smell of freshly cut flowers. On the wall under a small black cross was a framed work of art, a piece of Urdu calligraphy which read: Khuda mohabbat hai [God is love].
Archbishop Coutts is the second cardinal to be selected from Pakistan — the first being Cardinal Joseph Marie Anthony Cordeiro in 1973. Coutts was named one of the 14 new cardinals by Pope Francis last week. He will be entering the College of Cardinals along with the other 13 men on June 29.
When asked if he should now be addressed as His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Coutts, he said he was still the Archbishop of Karachi. “I don’t have a problem with you addressing me as you did before because ‘Cardinal’ is an added responsibility, and title. I will remain the Archbishop of Karachi,” he explained.
Coutts was born in Amritsar in 1945 and grew up in Karachi and Lahore. The young Joseph dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot some day. “There was the heroic Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot Cecil Chaudhry, a few years senior to myself, who I used to look up to,” he said.
According to the archbishop, throughout his schooldays he had been associated with the church. “I was an altar boy. So that seed had already been planted and by 1961, when I had passed high school, I aired my desire to join the church,” he said.
Joseph Coutts is set to enter College of Cardinals on June 29
“Of course, it made my mother very happy. It also made my big brother make fun of me. He would laugh and ask: “Abb kya padri bannay ga? [What, you want to become a priest now?]”
“Now after being named Cardinal, I say to people that I have been appointed a Senator. It is like becoming a Senator of the Vatican,” he said smiling and sniffling, as he reached into his pocket for a tissue. Asked if he was feeling under the weather, he nodded. On being told that maybe he had caught the evil eye after being elevated to Cardinal, he said that he did not believe in nazar [evil eye]. “But I do believe in nazla [the flu],” he chuckled.
Besides handling the affairs of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Coutts is also known as a humanitarian and a champion of interfaith harmony.
Discussing Islam and Christianity, he said: “Christianity is very close to Islam. It also predates Islam when people used to worship idols. At the time Christians were known as the believers. We denounced the worship of idols and kings or pharaohs going on then, in places such as Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.”
“Christianity had its base in Asia and the Middle East from where it spread to the rest of the world but thanks to colonialism and our former English rulers who were Christians, it is now seen as a European religion,” he explained.
“This is also why anger towards the West has to be faced by the Christian community here,” he said, adding that these things need to be looked at sensibly and with an open mind.
“While on the subject, it was so sensible of Pope Francis to have denied the existence of Islamic terrorism last year,” he said, while discussing the Pope’s address at a world meeting of populist movements in February last year, where he was asked to denounce Islam as a religion of terrorists.
“The Pope denounced terrorism itself, saying that there was no Christian or Jewish terrorism just like there was no Muslim terrorism,” he said.
“A wrong reaction there by the Pope would have created a huge problem in the world but he handled it very well,” he added.
The other cardinal
“There was Cardinal Joseph Marie Anthony Cordeiro from Pakistan before me. He was known as a great educationist,” said the Archbishop. “I have taught too, but I am not an educationist really. As Cardinal, I want to take what Pope Francis did forward by clearing misunderstandings among the people of various faiths by creating religious harmony and tolerance among the people here.”
Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2018