Karachi (Agenzia Fides) - "Although they are few, the Oblate missionaries of Mary Immaculate (OMI) have courageously accepted the challenge of working to create a new ecclesiastical unit in Baluchistan, a vast, harsh and inhospitable desert area. Their contribution to the Church in Pakistan is not only in the pastoral field, but also in evangelization and the formation of priests". With these words, Cardinal Joseph Coutts paid homage to the good works of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Pakistan on the occasion of their Golden Jubilee, 50 years of service in the land of the pure. During a celebration held in Lahore a few days ago, the Cardinal said: "The OMI gave professors for the major Seminaries and when we were forming the National Catholic Institute of Theology in Karachi, Fr Clement Waidyasekera OMI played a decisive role in its foundation. They are missionaries who open paths of the Gospel in the desert without fear, working in difficult areas of the country where no one wants to go".
Appreciating the service carried out by the OMI in Pakistan for having created "a new spirit of participatory Church" starting from the year 1972, after the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Coutts pointed out that they immediately found the trust of the faithful through a new pastoral approach, forming basic ecclesial communities: "Your contribution to the Church in Pakistan - he said addressing the missionaries - has made our Church more participatory, a synodal Church, which stands beside the people and works for human and spiritual progress". Mgr. Christopher Zakhia El Kassis, Apostolic Nuncio in Pakistan, presided over a thanksgiving Mass, conveying the Pope's blessing. "It is truly a joyful occasion - he said - to celebrate 50 years of tireless and fruitful missionary work by the OMI missionaries in some of the most difficult and inaccessible areas of Pakistan. I appreciate that you go to places where others have hesitated, committing yourselves to the growth of local communities, to the education and defense of the poor". The Nuncio recalled "the late Bishop Victor Gnanapragasm OMI, who led the Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta for more than twenty years with the support of the Priests of his OMI congregation and served Pakistan for 47 years". The Bishop left an example by "working beyond retirement age, until his last breath" (see Fides, 16/12/2020). Before the Thanksgiving Mass, Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw OFM of Lahore blessed the newly built "Mazenod College", on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the OMI's service in Pakistan. The Archbishop said: "In the last fifty years we have witnessed the commitment of the OMI in Pakistan. It is not at all easy to work in poor and desert areas. We also appreciate the zeal of the OMI for the proclamation of the Gospel, for the devotion to Mother Mary and for the priority given to the education of poor and marginalized children in society".
Br. Khan Paulus OMI, current Superior of the OMI delegation in Pakistan speaking to Agenzia Fides, said: "We praise and thank God for having reached this milestone, making a journey of 50 years in Pakistan. We now have 35 priests in Pakistan, 31 Pakistanis and 4 Sri Lankans, we are present in 6 of the 7 dioceses in Pakistan and serve 10 parishes, most of them in difficult areas. We have houses of formation in Lahore, Karachi and Multan, and in the 50th year of our missions in Pakistan we founded Mazenod College in Lahore to serve the youth and promote quality education. The College was established in Youhanabad, a predominantly Christian district of Lahore, to prepare young people for university studies".
"We are Christ-centered missionaries who live in apostolic communities committed to evangelization", he explains. "We work for the liberation of the poor and marginalized, and we carry it out, under the patronage of Mary our Mother, with our people with a life of simplicity and a spirit of generosity". During the celebrations of the Jubilee, the priestly ordination of the 35th OMI missionary, Fr. Robinson Peter, who became a priest on February 17 at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore, also took place. The OMI began its mission in Pakistan on February 14, 1971 in the Catholic Diocese of Faisalabad (then Lyallpur) at the invitation of the then Bishop Benedict Cialeo OP to the OMI Provincial of Sri Lanka. The first group of three missionaries, pioneers Fr. Lester Silva, Fr. Basil Silva and Fr. Theogenes Joseph arrived in Pakistan to start the Oblate presence in Pakistan.
Others came from Canada, Indonesia, Poland, Bangladesh and Austria. The missionaries have worked in all the dioceses of Pakistan, carrying out the most difficult missions, including Derrickabad (in the Thal desert) and BaLuchistan, a geographical desert and mountainous province of Pakistan, bordering Iran, Afghanistan and the Arabian Sea. In fifty years, the Oblates have taken on various ministries, such as parish ministry, educational ministry, mission with young people, the apostolate for "Justice, Peace and the protection of Creation", service in formation and Marian devotion. (AG-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 8/3/2022)