In this predominantly Islamic nation, Columban priests, Sisters and lay missionaries continue to develop a mission begun in 1979. Catholics in Pakistan are a small minority of less than 1 percent of the population.
In the city of Lahore and in Sheikhupura, 30 miles from Lahore, Columbans are working to form and strengthen local Christian communities. The majority of their people are poor, landless and illiterate. They live in small colonies in the midst of Muslims and earn their living by doing the most menial of jobs.
To provide for the spiritual and material needs of their people, Columbans have concentrated on forming basic Christian communities, training lay leaders and promoting literacy through formal and informal education programs.
Living in the midst of Muslims, dialogue is a very important aspect of the Columban apostolate. This takes place chiefly in day-to-day contacts with Muslims, in the friendships they build with them and in working with concerned Muslims on issues of social justice that affect both Christians and Muslims.
In 1983, Columbans extended their efforts to the diocese of Hyderabad, a vast area in the Sindh desert of southern Pakistan. There two Columban teams serve the Parkari Kohlis, a tribal people of Hindu origin.
The majority of Parkari Kohlis are tenant farmers continually in debt to large landowners. Although the Parkari Kohlis are the main focus for the Columbans, they are in contact with other tribal groups and minister to Catholic Punjabi communities.
Working out of two parish centers in Matli and Badin, Columbans with their catechists are frequently on the road, visiting their people who live in small settlements scattered over these vast desert areas.
To provide needed health care for their people, Columbans oversee a vaccination program and a tuberculosis treatment center in Matli. Mobile teams have vaccinated thousands of children and adults. These efforts not only benefit the people but they promote genuine friendships with Muslims and Hindus.
To provide education for their people, the majority of whom are illiterate, Columbans in the Sindh have organized adult literacy programs, established small rural schools and oversee a boarding school for primary children in Matli.
Present-day Islamic resurgence is on the rise and from time to time this creates difficult problems for Christians.
Pakistani women are subjected to grave discrimination. They live segregated, secluded lives in their homes, at school or at work. The Columban Sisters and laywomen volunteers from the Philippines, both arriving in 1990, have been a special gift to the women of Pakistan.
The Columban Sisters serve in Hyderabad and Kunri in the diocese of Hyderabad. They engage in pastoral and educational work and are involved in primary health care as well.
The Columban lay missionaries work chiefly with the women, supporting them in their struggles, praying with them and helping them to reflect on their lives in the light of faith.
More than anything, the example of the laywomen missionaries and the Columban Sisters, the responsible freedom with which they act, their confidence in their own dignity and self-worth as women, speak louder than their words and are more effective in what they do.