Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - From Newcastle to Pakistan: Bishop Kevin Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, recently set out with three priests and a BBC reporter on the same route travelled by many Pakistanis resident in Britain when they visit family and friends in the 'old' country. The Bishop had been invited to visit the Pontifical Mission Societies in Pakistan a country where life is difficult for the tiny Christian minority and there is still shock after a mob, ransacked and burnt Christian churches, parish houses, schools and convent, desecrating and destroying the furniture and fittings in Sangla Hill, near Lahore, on 12 November.
“Yet in the midst of this destruction the image of the Virgin Mary was undamaged , the Bishop said. “The local Christian community had placed a banner at the entrance of their wrecked church which read, ‘Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good’ the parish priest and Presbyterian minister explained what happened. It was heartrending to listen to the events of the night and the fragility of the Christian communities at Sangla Hill. We prayed that from the ashes of the destruction new life would be born”.
On the First Sunday of Advent a pastoral letter was read at all churches from the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference asking Catholic communities to remember those affected by the earthquake and the Christian community at Sangla Hill. They urged that Christmas should not be lavish but in the midst of celebrating the Birth of the Lord they should remember those without homes and make reparation for the desecration of Christian Churches.
Bishop Dunn, accompanied everywhere by national PMS director Fr Fr Mario Rodrigues, told of a moving experience at village number 441GB in the district of Isangari where with Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad he laid the foundation stones for a new church dedicated to St Joseph. “The contrast of these two days was profound, to visit a church desecrated and to see another one coming to life” he said.
He visited seminaries in the dioceses of Lahore and Faisalabad and the National Catechetical Centre where catechists spend three years before being sent to a mission station in one of the parishes. The Centre had been in operation since the 1950s and he was glad to see how the lay vocation was affirmed and encouraged.
“In this Season of Advent I am more aware that we unite with the whole Church and especially in Pakistan to prepare the welcome the Birth of Our Saviour whom comes to us in poverty and in the midst of our joys and sorrows. Finally - the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle concluded - when I see the red mission box (PMS collections) I know how important those pennies are to the lives and faith of our brothers and sisters”. (Agenzia Fides 1/12/2005 Righe: 24 Parole: 240)