New cardinal Joseph Coutts of Pakistan receives guests in Paul VI’s Hall at the Vatican following a consistory ceremony on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Archbishop Joseph Coutts is one of the 14 new cardinals presented with traditional red hats and new responsibilities by Pope Francis at a ceremony in Vatican City on June 28.

The selection of the Archbishop of Karachi is a proud moment for Pakistan. The Christian community is surprised and pleased by the decision. Coutts is known as ‘great promoter of dialogue between Christians and Muslims.’

A Pakistani Christian community leader, Father Emmanuel Yousuf remarked that, “He (Coutts) established multiple forums and networks for interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Christians, striving for acceptance by the general population and increased understanding by political and religious leaders.”

Another Pakistani Christian leader, Mgr Joseph Arshad, said: “Cardinal Coutts is a strong voice for minorities in Pakistan. Moreover, he is a very humble, simple and courageous person.”

Coutts is the second Pakistani archbishop to be honoured with the position after Cardinal Joseph Cordeiro, who passed away in 1994.

The new cardinals in the Catholic Church come from Italy (three), and one each from Poland, Portugal, Madagascar, Iraq, Pakistan, Japan, Peru and Spain.

Each cardinal received huge applause but there was strong appreciation particularly for those from Christian minority countries including Iraq, Japan and especially Cardinal Joseph Coutts from Pakistan.

In Pakistan, there are about one million Catholics among the 2.5 million Christians in the country’s 200 million people, the vast majority of whom are Muslims.

Coutts is a doctor of philosophy and is fluent in several languages including English, Italian, German, French, Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi. He served as the National Director of Caritas Pakistan, and has been working towards promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He also serves as the president of Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference.

Cardinal Coutts was ordained a priest in Lahore in January 1971 after receiving his training at Christ the King seminary in Karachi.

The Lahore-based archbishop, who has previously served as a bishop in Faisalabad and Hyderabad, has been recently serving his community as Head Bishop at Saint Patrick’s Church in Karachi with focus on inter-faith harmony.

During his 14 years as bishop in Faisalabad, he established a committee to solve the religious differences between Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

The selection of Coutts sends a strong signal of solidarity to Pakistani Christians, according to Coutts. He was quoted as saying by DW News that: “I believe that my selection as cardinal does acknowledge that there is a viable, visible and active Christian community in Pakistan.”