Having spent almost five weeks in isolation in the Joti Catechetical Centre in Mirpurkhas in Pakistan, Fr Pat Raleigh was delighted in the final week of his stay to be able to travel to Karachi ahead of his return journey to Dalgan.
I am indebted to Fr Tomás King for driving the three-and-a-half-hour journey. The scenery to Karachi had not changed since I was there in early March except this time the weather was much hotter, having reached over 40 degrees daily for a number of weeks.
While there was a lockdown it didn’t seem that way. The whole journey to Karachi was full of traffic, especially large trucks. The only change was there was no public transport. I admired the skilful driving ingenuity of Tomás as he carefully weaved his way in and out of traffic. I know that I could never drive in Pakistan again although at one time I loved the challenge of it all.
Meeting the Columbans in Karachi
The beauty of the visit to Karachi, while short, was meeting up with the small group of Columbans there: my classmate Joe Joyce, Louie Ybanez from the Philippines, Pat Visanti from Fiji and Mona and Hazel, the two Columban Lay Missionaries from Baguio and the Mountain Province in the Philippines. They were also in lockdown. I was particularly happy to meet them all, especially Pat Visanti who had just returned from Fiji, after suffering a double bereavement, his mother and brother. I wish all four every blessing as they begin their new missionary outreach in a very challenging situation. I am so glad that I was able to spend a short while with them.
The Return journey to Mirpurkhas
On the way back to Mirpurkhas we had a very pleasant visit with the four Columban Sisters in Hyderabad who were now five weeks into lockdown. After my visit I realised how lucky I was having had space for movement in the Compound in Joti. All the Sisters had was a small roof area. We kept social distance during our brief visit. The four represent Ireland, the Philippines and Korea. In spite of the conditions one had to admire their cheerfulness and enthusiasm for Mission.
Our final stop was in Hyderabad where we visited Liam O’Callaghan from Waterford who together with his co-worker, Danish, are very involved in JPIC and Interfaith work.
The final days
I spent the last few days in Joti wondering whether my proposed flight to London would go ahead on Sunday 24th April with Pakistan International Airlines. My scheduled flight with Qatar Airlines for the 27th was cancelled. I kept hoping that this might be my third time lucky. On Saturday morning last, which coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, and the feast of St Mark, we set out bright and early for the long journey of fourteen hours to Lahore. There were no flights from Karachi. For one moment do not have a bit of sympathy for me. We had a lovely air-conditioned car driven by Khashir. Tomás King certainly went beyond the call of duty by accompanying me. While the drive was undoubtedly long it was very pleasant. We travelled on the new superhighway which was built by the Chinese.
It was an added bonus for me as I never expected to see the lovely rich landscape of the Punjab. The wheat harvest had just taken place and many people, including women and children, were still working in the fields. It is really difficult work and for the most part they are poorly paid. We passed a number of brick kiln factories on the way. They brought back many memories of my years in the Punjab. There is no doubt, but it is bonded labour and the workers are forever in debt. In one se sense I felt like a hypocrite and a cheat that I was in a position to escape. It gives me a lot of food for thought.
Visit of Dan O’Connor
Dan O’Connor from New Zealand made a special trip to see me from Badin on my last night. This was a very special visit as our friendship goes back to the early 1980s when he arrived in Lahore as an OTP student together with Finbar Maxwell. Since then we have remained close friends. We shared a lot of memories when we met. Both of us were sad when we said goodbye to each other on Saturday morning.
The flight to London
I was very relieved when I got on the plane in Lahore on Saturday morning. I was so happy that it was not cancelled. I thought that it would be half empty, but every seat was occupied. So much for social distancing! To their credit the airline staff wore protective clothing. We were well looked after. On arrival in London and after collecting my luggage I proceeded to the Aer Lingus desk to check in. I was fortunate that it was in the same terminal. We were only about 14 passengers in all. Like Terminal 2 in London, Terminal 2 in Dublin was deserted.
I met a lovely young lady, Saoirse, from Ballymun, who was helping two elderly people who happened to be on the same flight from Lahore. She returned and accompanied me to Zone 18 where I was to have met the taxi person. It was deserted as I was forty-five minutes ahead of schedule. Having phoned David Kenneally, who has been extremely helpful, I proceeded to Terminal 1 with Saoirse and got a taxi. His name was Joseph from the Ivory Coast. He had been waiting there since 3pm and was very glad of business. I arrived in Dalgan at 10pm and was met by David.
It is so good to be back and to have the luxury of the beautiful grounds and walks, which I very much enjoyed this morning. My sincere thanks to the Columbans in Pakistan and others who made me very welcome. It didn’t turn out as I had planned but I am one of the lucky ones. My thoughts are with not only the Columbans there but with the people, the vast majority who are very poor. I am so grateful and fortunate.
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