Bishop Anthony Theodore Lobo, Bishop Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rawalpindi passed away in the early hours of 18 February 2013. He fought his last battle of prolonged illness lasting over five years in spirituality, meditation, reading, writing and serving his community. He was a Pakistani from and a national icon people must know about. On his death, Imran Khan paid glowing tributes to him and his services to Pakistan.
The late Bishop was a reputed and respected figure. His passion, commitments and educational excellence cut across religious divides in Pakistan. From a young priest in charge of St. Patrick’s High School Karachi he had the singular honour of being on the senate of four National Universities ie Forman Christian College University Lahore, Kinnaird College University Lahore, Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur and Sindh University Jamshoro. He leaves behind a legacy of highly accomplished students and admirers that can make any Pakistani proud. His services in the field of education were recognised by the President of Pakistan who conferred on him the President’s “Pride of Performance” Award in 1990.
Anthony Lobo loved his country and I was a witness to his romantic notions for over 18 years. He had a glitter in his eyes when he recounted standing as an altar boy on 14 August 1947 when Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah joined the Catholic community of Karachi with Mr. C Gibbons for Thanksgiving Prayers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Karachi. He is the same C Gibbons, who in companionship of Mr. S P Singha, the Christian speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, Joshua Fazal Din and Chandu Lall were instrumental in securing the majority for Muslim League in 1945. To recount, the casting vote for division of Punjab in favour of Muslim League was cast by the Christian speaker.
It was this ability to communicate across religious divides that endeared him to people all over the country. His fan club included Presidents, Prime Ministers, politicians, bureaucrats, generals, scholars, educationists, religious leaders, the impoverished and the many unsung footsloggers. One of the most moving scenes I recollect is when he reached the house of Professor Ayaz Ahmad Khan of St. Mary’s College strapped with a portable ventilator he used for breathing. He had come despite his failing health condition to pay his respects to a gallant son Captain Jonaid who had been beheaded by terrorists in Swat. The Bishop spent hours there and stood right through the military funeral panting and praying. His presence in a Bishop’s robe next to the National colors shot a wave of emotions and patriotism amongst all who were present. He insisted on praying and all Christians and Muslims joined him.
Throughout his life, he remained in contact with his students who rose to highest levels in the country and interceded on behalf of Pakistanis. He maintained contacts with all the Christian war heroes of Pakistan and the families of those officers and soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. I remember him reaching Lahore in May 2010 on a wheel chair with his portable ventilator on the funeral of Mrs. Iris Chaudhry the wife of Late Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry. Because he could not climb steps, he sat at the doorway to attend the funeral prayers. I recall his many telephone calls to the family of Group Captain Cecil, when the bravest of national Heros was fighting his last battle with cancer.
Being a spiritual leader of the small Catholic community of Pakistan never deterred him from playing his role in educational across the entire country. His footmarks are all over the Christian educational institutions in Pakistan. In fact, he along with Bishop Alexander John Malik of the Church of Pakistan made a formidable team of high class educational reformists in Punjab. In the past twenty years he used his position as Chairman, Roman Catholic Education Commission of Pakistan and Secretary General, Catholic Bishop Conference of Pakistan to effectively contribute to private educational standards. He established many Basti Schools in rural areas of the country to impart high class modern education to the least privileged segments of Pakistani society.
In his private capacity, he mentored and financially sustained many under privileged but most deserving individuals across religious lines to rise as Pakistan’s outstanding scholars, academicians, scientists and social activists. He had the ability to communicate with emphatic vigour. Benazir Bhutto Shaheed and General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf were amongst his avid fans as also subject of curt personal admonishment.
Bishop Lobo was disturbed by the negative socio-economic effects of the nationalization of missionary educational institutions in the 70s. He felt that selective discriminatory insertions in the Constitution alienated non Muslim Pakistanis and deprived communities of their nurseries. They were no longer in a position to reassert the role they played in Pakistan Movement and first twenty years of Pakistan’s development; the fastest growing economy of Asia. He cherished the days when men and women of his flock were Pakistan’s best educationists, health specialists, accountants, police and armed forces officers and ran the railways to perfection. Political alienation resulted in migrations abroad, plummeting of educational standards and proliferation of vices. In an exhaustive study with a German sociologist, he reached the conclusion that education was the only way that religious minorities of Pakistan could move forward. As a Holy Father, he was quick to adopt many Christian and Hindu high achievers as his sons and give them the moral support to become go getters. One such luminary was Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed.
Education remained one of Bishop Lobo’s strongest points. He spearheaded the movement for denationalization of Christian schools. Faced with financial constraints for this privatization challenge, he travelled world over collecting funds and ultimately making it possible to pay government dues, carry out renovations and get them running. Till 2008, when travelling for him became prohibitive, he spent summers travelling world over collecting alms and donations for his educational projects.
As a push towards his dreams, in 1995, he launched an ambitious project by the name of Boys Town in Lalazar Rawalpindi. His vision was to catch Christian talent at primary level and groom them in-house with world class educational standards. In December 2005, he requested me to leave my lucrative job and join his mission for education. Talking of his financial constraints, he said that he was not in a position to pay me an equitable salary and instead God would do it. I resigned immediately and was appointed the founding Rector of St. Mary’s College Rawalpindi, the first Roman Catholic Higher education institution of Pakistan. The project began with two-pence and continues to grow despite inability of Bishop Lobo to travel and collect donations.
Bishop Lobo has left behind a very large group of devotees, admirers, beneficiaries and institutions. It is up to us to live up to these lofty traditions and make individual and organizational contributions to the visions of offsetting social imbalances and benefitting our country.