ASIA/PAKISTAN - The service of the missionaries of Saint Columban in Pakistan for more than forty years

Wednesday, 17 January 2024 human rights   ethnic minorities   evangelization   missionaries   missionary institutes  

Karachi (Agenzia Fides) - More than forty years, the missionaries of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban - priests, nuns and lay missionaries - have been at the service of the people of Pakistan. Father John Boles, regional superior in Great Britain of the Society of Saint Columban, summarizing the presence and activities of religious in the country, highlights: "We believe that Jesus has called us here, to a nation marked by religious and ethnic tensions, oppressive poverty, constant threats of terrorist attacks, chronic injustices and endemic corruption. On the other hand, didn't Jesus accompany himself, according to the Gospel, to the poor and marginalized? explains Father Pat Visanti, who gave up a comfortable life in a bank on his native islands of Fiji to join the missionaries of St. Columban and accept apostolic service in Pakistan and now resides in the parish entrusted to the Columbans in Badin, in the arid Thar Desert. There, Father Visanti and Monaliza Sagra, a Colombian lay missionary from the Philippines, run a school with 470 students and a clinic with five full-time health workers. The priest celebrates the sacraments, periodically visits two chapels in nearby villages (which are "missionary stations", a third is under construction), and welcomes, speaks, comforts the population, all in three languages. New Zealander Father Dan O'Connell takes care of a primary school in a village, where Hindu, Christian and Muslim children study and live happily together, "a remarkable form of testimony, considering that Pakistan was born after great bloodshed: more than a million people died during the partition with India in 1947, while Hindus and Muslims massacred each other", recalls Father Boles. And although episodes of inter-community violence are still recorded today, "the Columbans seek to bring together people of different beliefs to confront their common enemies: poverty, exploitation and unrest." A missionary considered with affection and gratitude as an "apostle among the tribals" is the Irish father Tomas King, who for 25 years has dedicated his pastoral and social work to serving, not only the majority of the population of the Sindh region, the Sindhis, but especially the members of the Parkari Kholi tribal group, an ethnic minority often despised and discriminated against, "at the bottom of the social scale both for being indigenous and largely Christian", he highlights. Together with the missionaries, the nuns of the Family of Saint Columban have been engaged in pastoral and educational work in the center of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, for more than 100 years. The region was hit by heavy monsoon floods that occurred from mid-June to the end of August 2022, leaving deep wounds. The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming: 33 million people out of a population of approximately 229 million were affected, more than 1,700 died, more than 13,000 were injured, and damage and economic losses are estimated at $30 billion. The damage to infrastructure in the affected areas was enormous: 13,115 kilometers of roads damaged, 439 bridges destroyed, crops damaged and destroyed, and more than 1.1 million head of livestock lost. Around 2.2 million homes were damaged or destroyed, 1.5 million in Sindh alone, and internally displaced people were forced to live in temporary shelters. In this context, the missionaries of Saint Columban made an extraordinary effort: they contributed through a housing project that was made possible thanks to a donation received through the Columban Overseas Aid Fund (COAF). The homes built are low-cost but resistant to flooding and compatible with local architecture and construction techniques. The housing construction project is located in Mirpurkhas and Umerkot districts of Sindh, severely affected by floods. The families receiving these homes belong to the Parkari Kohli indigenous community, with which the Columbans have worked since 1983, providing support to agricultural workers without opportunities for education and health care. The construction of the first houses began in February 2023 and a year later, more than 100 homes have been delivered to families. "Donor support has helped the poorest of the poor rebuild their lives," says Columban missionary Father Liam O'Callaghan, coordinator of the “Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation and Interreligious Dialogue in Pakistan” unit. The missionaries of Saint Columban arrived in Pakistan in 1979, starting to work among the poor, the landless and the illiterate, with parish schools and health facilities. Currently, there are nine missionaries of St. Columban: seven are priests and two lay brothers, who come in total from four countries, Ireland, New Zealand, Fiji and the Philippines. The Columbans currently work in two missions in southern Pakistan, in the diocese of Hyderabad and in the archdiocese of Karachi, both in the province of Sindh. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 17/1/2024)