Columban Fathers bring their experience in Pakistan of Challenging Structures and Changing Lives to Washington, D.C.

By Chloe Schwabe, Advocacy Associate
November 1, 2012

Upcoming CCAO Events

November 6- JPIC Advocacy Call at 10am. Call in at 605-477-2100, access code 1320#
November 15- Intern Closing Celebration

November 20 – Celebration of Feast of St. Columban (Nov 23)

From October 2-5, the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach hosted two Columban Fathers who have each served for more than 20 years in Pakistan, Father Finbar Maxwell and Father Tomas King. Their week with us enriched our ministry, strengthened relationships, and allowed us to bring a unique perspective of the on the ground reality of Pakistan to policy makers in Washington, D.C. – And boy did we keep them busy!

Over the course of the week, we met with key Senate offices from states where Columbans live in the U.S. that monitor and make decisions on foreign aid and military intelligence. We also met with the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (established by Congress in 1998), the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic partners in ministry, and students and faculty at American University through the Kay Spiritual Life Center. We also took a day for an art retreat with faith-based colleagues led by Father Finbar and co-sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Mission Association.

While writing this reflection, I remembered one of my favorite scripture quotes: “I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.” (John 12:24).  Fathers Tomas, Finbar and all Columban missionaries in Pakistan are in a country that faces many challenges but their stories gave me hope for Pakistan, even among the tragedies, that fruit will be born.

Father Finbar and Father Tomas shared their concerns based on their lived experience. They described how life in Pakistan is very hard with some communities functioning with no electricity and the cities functioning with perhaps only ten hours of electricity a day making it very hard for industries and families to carry out work or basic domestic functions each day.

They spoke of military drone attacks and how they see these attacks fomenting anti-Western and anti-Christian sentiments as civilians are sometimes killed or injured. They called for the U.S. government to shift military aid to development aid for Pakistan.

They spoke about the Christian minority and how the misuse of blasphemy laws contribute to a destabilized society and perpetuate deep seated discrimination via the caste system, a relic of the country’s Hindu roots.  They highlighted that the population is 70 percent illiterate and the Islamization of the education system which is not always inclusive of other religions.

Many of these issues such as   violations of human and religious rights, lack of access to education, healthcare, and other basic human needs, and foreign military presence all contribute to feelings of frustration and vulnerability to just get through the day to day activities of life.   As Frs. Tomas and Finbar stressed, support for better infrastructure and human needs would improve the quality of life for many.

Despite the challenges, I was inspired and filled with hope learning about the ways that Columbans are living in relationship and carrying out a dialog of life in the communities they serve in Pakistan. They provide education in a school where together youth from Christian, Muslim and Hindu traditions all attend. Columbans also run a tuberculosis treatment clinic that serves people of all faiths. Through parish ministry they provide for the spiritual and pastoral needs of individuals and communities that fosters change through non-violence.

These ministries cultivate interfaith dialogue and relationships through shared experiences. They are the seeds that have and will produce fruits of acceptance, understanding, and community. Shortly after Fr. Finbar and Tomas’ visit the world was shocked by the case of young Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl who was shot on her way home from school. What became clear to me is that our missionary presence in Pakistan offers witness that peace and respect among peoples of different cultures, languages, and religions is possible and that we must continue to call for programs that support human needs and the inclusion of people of all faiths, including through development aid provided by the U.S. government.

These two missionary priests opened my eyes to a country about which I personally knew little. I am incredibly grateful for their visit. I experienced a conversion, and now I feel a deep personal concern and passion for the millions of Pakistanis who are just trying to have a better life and survive each day.