Among countless people leaving Blonia after welcoming Pope Francis in the city of Krakow was a lone man, gazing at the crowds and offering each of them a warm smile. Most pilgrims assist World Youth Day in groups, usually large, so it was unusual to see someone who was not surrounded by friends. The group from Pakistan consists only of three people and Summar Zaman is one of them.
Summar is a Christian based in Silakot, a city of almost a million in the Punjab province. Pakistan is one of the least represented among World Youth Day's many nationalities. Summar shared, “Coming to Poland from Pakistan was difficult and very expensive, but I had to do it. I wanted to experience Christian culture since I come from a country that is almost completely Muslim.” Summar is captivated by the beauty of Krakow, describing it as an exotic place for a visitor outside of Europe’s boundaries.
Summar's entire family is Catholic, this includes his mother, brother and wife. “Our mom always taught us to pray before enjoying a meal, and to thank God every night before bed for the blessings of the day,” he said this as he thought about how it was that his great-grandparents had become Christian. In his youth, Summar and his brother were bullied by their peers because of their beliefs, and later in life it was difficult for them to find work within their community. Despite the obstacles they never thought of giving up their faith, as he puts it, “Jesus gave his life for us, for me, and I could never forget it.”
While Pakistan officially allows freedom of religion, there are laws in place that restrict the freedom of speech in the area through its blasphemy laws. Religious minorities can face violence or even prosecution. Summar himself was a victim of an attack in 2007. He still has the huge scar from a stab that permanently damaged his spleen and intestines. “For several hours before my surgery I was o the verge of death,” he recounted, “and next to my bed stood my family and friends praying for my life.” After that experience Summar decided to give himself to God in thanks for saving his life and became a preacher. He works together with people of other Christian denominations, because as he says, “In Pakistan we cannot afford to make differences, so we all help each other. We have to be united in order to manage to spread the message of Jesus Christ.”
Due to the danger of speaking about religion in public places since it is illegal, Christians cannot reach out to people in the streets. Henceforth, Summar became a part of a group which employs a different way of evangelization. Hoping to bring Jesus to everyone, including the illiterate or with very little education, his parish community found a way to teach through images rather than speeches. His faith community has translated some popular Christian movies like Jesus of Nazareth and The Passion of Christ into local languages, in Urdu and Punjabi, and they travel around the region showing them to villagers. “All we need to do is find a big house where people can gather and show the story of Jesus, the story from the Gospel, afterwards we answer their questions - this is how we reach them,” praises Summar.
Meeting so many Catholic pilgrims during these World Youth Day’s has been of great reassurance for Summar, in a climate so different from his land. He hopes to take the force of the youth's faith and the striking words of Pope Francis back home and share them with as many as possible, but his journey back will have one more stop. “I don't know if I will be able to come to Europe again, so I am going to Italy to visit Rome, to see the most important place for the Catholics, St. Peter’s Basilica, then I will bring it all home.”
Marta Olga Kazimierak