Pope Francis is set to visit Pakistan this year on his first-ever trip to the Islamic nation, officials said today.

The invitation by Prime Minister to the Head of Catholic Church was extended by Ports and Shipping Minister Kamran Michael – the only Christian minister in the current government – and Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yusuf during a meeting in Vatican last month.

Officials said that Pope Francis accepted the invitation extended on behalf of Sharif, “It is true that Pope has accepted the invitation and the dates of the trip will be finalised by mutual consultation”.

“It is true that Pope has accepted the invitation and the dates of the trip will be finalised by mutual consultation,” an official of the religious ministry said.

He said the Pope will meet Prime Minister Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain.

He will also hold extensive interactions with the minority Christian community of the country, a majority of them Catholic, besides visiting a Church.Christians of Pakistan are pushing to declare Shahbaz Bhatti, killed in 2011 for demanding reform in the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, as a saint and they expect some positive gesture by the Pope during the visit.

Christians of Pakistan are pushing to declare Shahbaz Bhatti, killed in 2011 for demanding reform in the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, as a saint and they expect some positive gesture by the Pope during the visit.

In other news…

Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar said on Thursday that his country will never roll back its nuclear programme despite financial hardship and the threat of mounting external debt.

Dar was briefing the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, on the country’s economy. According to the Express TribuneDar dismissed reports about Pakistan bartering away its nuclear arsenal. “We did not start this (nuclear) programme to roll it back. This is a programme of our security, and it is our national responsibility to protect it. All political parties of Pakistan share the ownership of our nuclear programme,” he said. “Even if our debts swell to $100 billion or $100 trillion, we will not roll back our nuclear programme.”