The mission journey of Columban Father Tomás King has led him from the rolling, verdant green hills of his native Galway, Ireland, to the mostly hot, dry desert of Pakistan. As an impoverished and underdeveloped country, Pakistan has suffered from decades of internal political disputes, poor foreign investment and a costly and on-going confrontation with India. The need for Catholic mission in Pakistan is great.
Before leaving for missionary work in Pakistan, Fr. Tomás acquired pastoral experience working with the persecuted “traveler” community in Ballybane, Galway. Throughout history, the travelers (also called gypsies or tinkers) have been ill-treated and resigned to the lowest socio-economic class.
Fr. Tomás is fluent in Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, which he studied before his ordination in 1992. He was appointed coordinator of the Columbans’ Pakistan Mission Unit in March 2008.
Pakistan is 97 percent Muslim with the remaining 3 percent split between Hinduism and Christianity. One of Fr. Tomás’s priorities is to build relationships of trust and respect that rarely exists among the religions. For example, Christian holidays are observed only by practicing Christians while Islamic holidays are observed countrywide.
In addition to the differences in religion, Pakistanis discriminate against people engaged in perceived “dirty” work—farm laborers, brick kiln workers and sweepers. Furthermore, Pakistanis discriminate against poor women merely because they are poor and female. A full 24 percent of Pakistanis live below the poverty line. And, early in 2008, inflation jumped to 11 percent due to rising world commodities prices.
Today, Fr. Tomás lives among these marginalized people in Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province where he emphasizes the education of laity, schooling and healthcare as ways to improve their lives.
There is good news coming from Pakistan. The poverty levels have decreased 10 percent since 2001, and under-employment is easing. In fact, Fr. Tomás is so committed to the helping these marginalized people that he interrupted his doctoral dissertation to return to Pakistan. While the final chapter has yet to be written on his dissertation, Fr. Tomás’s mission story in Pakistan continues.