In Pakistan, poor, mostly non-Christian families struggle to survive both in the major cities and in the desert of the Sindh Province in the south. What most consider the basics of life—such as education and health care—are difficult to obtain for most Pakistanis.
The ordained life of Columban Father Robert McCulloch has sought to increase the education and basic health care of the people he serves.
The Australia native, ordained in 1970, sits on the administrative board for Hyderabad’s St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a 75-bed health-care facility with a School of Midwifery. Plans are underway to open a School of Nursing in 2008.
Plus, Fr. McCulloch chairs the board of directors for the Centre of Academic Excellence, a project he initiated in 2006 to provide educational, spiritual, moral and personal formation for 40 Catholic boys and young men of proven academic ability from the Diocese of Hyderabad. The program enables them to obtain university entrance and successfully pursue their studies as they become influential Catholic voices in Pakistan, which is 92 percent Muslim.
Fr. McCulloch also serves two Diocese of Hyderabad parishes: Kotri, a rural area 100 miles east of Karachi; and Machar Colony, a community of 300 Catholic families in the slums of Hyderabad.
Six Columban priests, including Fr. McCulloch, first went to Pakistan in 1978. Part of the mission was to serve the semi-nomadic Parkari Koli people, a tribal, Hindu people trapped in a societal caste in the Sindh Province.
In 1983, the Parkari language remained an unwritten oral language. For this reason, a member of the initial team of Columbans appointed to Hyderabad was a trained linguist who both facilitated the study of the Parkari language by the Columban priests and led their subsequent work in working with Parkari people to enable their spoken language to become a written language. Columbans undertook pastoral and mission responsibility Badin and Matli, an area bounded by the Indian border, the Rann of Katch, the Indus River and the Arabian Sea.
Fr. McCulloch was appointed to Badin. In 1985, he organized the production of the first written text in the Parkari language, a 10-page monthly magazine titled Prem Parchar (“Good News”), which carried articles on health, agriculture, education, human rights, and the culture and customs of the Parkari people.
That same year, he established a school for 27 boys and girls in the desert village of Issa Nagri. This was the first such village school in the diocese of Hyderabad and its success lead to the establishment of more than 50 such schools throughout the diocese.
The first tentative educational venture in Badin has since developed into six village schools and a middle and high school equipped with science laboratory, computer center, and library. More than 550 children (Christian, Hindu, with a limit of 5 percent Muslim) are enrolled in the schools in Badin.
Also in 1985, Fr. McCulloch established a mobile medical program to provide vaccinations for infants and children, medical care for their mothers, and diagnosis and care of tuberculosis patients. The government vaccination teams were Muslim; on caste ground, they considered the Parkari people unclean and refused to touch them or vaccinate their children. Attitudes can and do change.
The trained Parkari vaccination and medical teams are now invited by Muslims to come to their villages to offer medical care. Currently, more than 550 TB patients (mostly Muslim and Hindu) receive free treatment in the TB center run by the Columban Fathers in Badin. The center is the only one in Badin but receives no government assistance.
Since 1993, Fr. McCulloch has been chairman of the Liturgical Texts’ Translation Committee of the Pakistan Episcopal Conference for the translation into the Urdu language of the rites for the celebration of the sacraments. The completed Urdu translations (1,200 pages of Urdu text) received Vatican approval in 2001. Fr. McCulloch has written and translated books in Urdu in the fields of Church history and liturgy.