Columban Witness in Pakistan

Jan 4, 2024

I am writing this crouched under a lazy ceiling fan, dripping with sweat and staring out at the squalid, chaotic, dust-blown bedlam that is Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan. You might ask, “Who in their right mind would choose to live and work in such an area?” The answer is: the Columbans.

For over forty years Columban priests, Sisters and Lay Missionaries have been serving the people of Pakistan. We believe that Jesus calls missionaries to go even to places like this or maybe particularly to places like this. Here there are religious and ethnic tensions, grinding poverty, constant threats of terrorist outrages, chronic injustice and endemic corruption.

The ‘normal’ reaction would be to avoid these kinds of spots, whereas we actively seek them out. We do so because we feel that this is what Jesus would do. In that case, we are in good company. Didn’t Jesus associate with the poor and outcast rather than the rich and powerful? When he did, I’m sure he met with the “other side of the coin”, as I have done during my brief visit to Pakistan – kind faces, warm welcomes, stunning hospitality from people who have virtually nothing.

Columban Lay Missionary Monaliza Sagra from the Philippines and Fr John Boles at the Shah Jahan Mosque in the Sindh (Pakistan).

Fr Pat Visanti gave up a comfortable existence in a bank in his native Fiji to join the Columbans and accept an appointment to Pakistan. Now he is based in the long-established Columban parish of Badin, deep in the parched Thar Desert.

Here, Pat and Monaliza Sagra, a Columban Lay Missionary from the Philippines, oversee a college of 470 pupils and a clinic with five full-time health workers. Pat celebrates the sacraments in one main church, two satellite chapels (a third is under construction) in three different languages!

New Zealander Fr Dan O’Connor is a familiar sight as he speeds across the Thar on his trusty motorbike. I accompanied him to a village primary school, where I found Hindu, Christian and Muslim children happily studying together. This is a remarkable form of witness, as Pakistan is a country born in bloodshed.

Over a million people perished at Partition in 1947 as Hindus and Muslims slaughtered one another. Even today there are occasional outbreaks of communal violence. Yet here are we, the Columbans, trying to bring people of rival faiths together to face their common enemies of poverty and exploitation.

Fr Tomás King from Ireland has spent years in this area, serving not only the majority Sindhi population but also members of the Parkari Kholi tribal group – a people often despised for being both indigenous and largely Christian.

The Columban Sisters are in Pakistan as well, engaged in parish and community work in the maelstrom of downtown Karachi. You’ll be hearing more of them this year as they celebrate 100 years of service to mission. Yes, it’s a crazy journey we are on in Pakistan. But that is just how Columbans are. Crazy for Christ. Happy New Year.

Fr John Boles is Regional Director of the Columbans in Britain. Ordained in 1996, he served on mission in Peru and Chile.

This article is published as the Editorial in the British edition of the January/February 2024 issue of the Far East magazine. Please subscribe here:

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