In the early 1950s there was one place in the city where Hindus, Christians and Muslims would bump into each other for one purpose. This place was the D` Souza family wine shop in Saddar where a young Archie D`Souza first experienced the way the people of these three faiths interacted. Small wonder then, that when he was 18 years old, he decided that he wanted to become a priest. And over the years, Father Archie went on to become one of the strongest proponents of interfaith harmony. In fact, not only did he pursue a B.A. in Islamic studies at Jamia Millia, Malir, in 1969 but he also went on to do an M.A. in Islamic Theology from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and later a Ph.D. in Islamic Theology at Gregorian University, Rome, in 1976. With his death last week, the Christians, Muslims and Hindus of Karachi and Pakistan have lost a valuable diplomat.
Fr. Archie passed away on March 25 in his room at the age of 64 and at the time of his death he was the parish priest of Our Lady Fatima Church off Randall Road. He was also the former vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Karachi.
According to The Most Reverend Evarist Pinto, who was ordained at the same time as Fr. Archie in 1968 at St. Patrick`s Cathedral and who lived in the same place for a while, the late priest was outgoing, an extrovert and made friends easily. "This was reflected in his presence during sermons; he was a showman," Rev. Pinto told Daily Times on Friday, while referring to Fr Archie`s ability to command a parish`s rapt attention.
The real focus of Fr. Archie`s life began to shape due to a change in the Vatican`s policy in the early 1960s when the Church decided to open its doors to people of other faiths in terms of dialogue, interaction and understanding. It was a policy meant to encourage the people of the world to look beyond their fear.
"As long as I worked by his side I never heard Fr Archie talk to anyone about converting," said Shamran Khan, who was the priest`s secretary for 15 years and his colleague at the interfaith harmony council. "He believed that people should not focus on the differences between their religions and instead on the commonality. For Muslims and Christians, for example, there is one God and Jesus and Hazrat Issa (AS) and Hazrat Marium or Mary.
Fr. Archie was instrumental in organizing inter-faith meetings throughout Pakistan, frequently came on television and spoke at many seminars. In 1999, he invited, for what is believed to be the first time, 200 Muslims, Hindus and Parsis to attend the Christmas midnight mass at St. Patrick`s Cathedral. Maulana Azad from England, Dilpat Sonuwaria, Dr Jaypal Chapria were among the speakers, according to Shamran Khan.
Fr. Archie also ran the Rabita centre for Christian-Muslim dialogue at Malik Manzil in Saddar. He was also a lecturer in Christian philosophy at the Aga Khan Academy from 1976 to 1980, professor of Islamic studies Propoganda Fide College, Rome and the dean of studies at Christ the King Seminary, Karachi, from 1982 to 1992. From 1996 to 2002, he was on the editorial board for weekly The Christian Voice.