Fr. Pat is from Rotuma, a Polynesian island in Fiji. On holiday to Fiji recently he shared some of his experiences. Here are a few stories he told us.
When Pakistani people first meet me wearing a shalwar kamiz (long shirt with loose fitting trousers) they think that I am a Pathan, from the north of Pakistan. A Pathan seller in the market last Christmas was packing stuff for me and he asked, “What place in the north are you from?” I explained to him that I am not Pakistani. We laughed together.
At a military checkpoint a soldier got onto a bus I was travelling on. He began talking to me. I didn’t understand a single word. Realizing that there was a problem he asked for my I.D. He looked at me and said, “So you are not Pakistani!” We both started laughing. I heard then that he had been speaking in Pashto, the language of the Pathans.
The toughest thing in Pakistan for me is the culture. It is different. It takes a while to learn why they do what they do. If one doesn’t learn to like the culture, forget about working there.
I came to appreciate the Muslim religion. I admire the way Muslims pray five times a day. Sometimes I feel ashamed. They pray when they hear the call to prayer. We struggle to do our prayers. It is a challenge. We can learn good things from each other.
There are three mosques near our church compound. We have a good relationship with the nearest mosque, and their loud speakers are no longer facing in towards us. It can be crazy when they go off. One of the maulvi’s daughters has been teaching at our school for the last 25 years. She attends many of our programs.
Interreligious dialogue is easy where Christians are in the majority. In Pakistan, Muslims are in the majority so you have to do things on their terms. Christian-Muslim dialogue there happens in our daily interactions with people. I found it hard to approach them in the beginning, but as I improved at the language I was able to chat to them. We have Muslim friends with whom we work.
Joys and Frustrations of Parish Work
In our parish of Badin in southern Pakistan we have a tuberculosis (TB) clinic because TB is a big issue in Pakistan — kids as young as one year old suffer from it. The people live in poor conditions; water is not clean and the sewerage system is not good. At the TB clinic we try to educate them about hygiene, etc. About 60 to 70 people come to the clinic every morning from Monday to Saturday. A small fee of about 20 cents is charged so that they feel they are contributing. Two employees do outreach in the villages on Thursdays, following up on patients who have stopped coming to the clinic.
We have an ambulance in the parish which I normally drive. One day I drove the ambulance to bring six sisters to the parish to experience the tribal apostolate. I met them at the train station dressed in overalls. “So you are the driver,” they asked. “Yes, I am the ambulance driver.” Only when we reached the church did they find out I was a priest.
We have a primary and secondary school with about 460 students in the church compound. During the COVID 19 outbreak the classes were divided with half coming on successive days to achieve social distancing. So every student went to school three days a week. Masks and hand sanitation were obligatory. Most of the teachers are Catholic, but more students are Muslim than Catholic.
Our Christians are spoiled. At enrollment Muslims and Hindus fight to get a place. But we have to announce the registration over and over at Mass to get our Christians to enroll their children. They think that they own the school!
Some of our Catholics abuse Columban and Church generosity. When they come to me I ask them questions. There are genuine cases of course but chancers too. One guy asked for 22,000 rupees (around U.S. $100) because he was preparing to harvest his mango orchards. He came twice to me, but I said no. A week later he came to the TB clinic and asked for the fare for a patient in the village who needed to go to Karachi. He asked for 22,000 Rupees. We called the patient and were told that his clinic was in one month’s time and he had no knowledge that this fellow was asking for money on his behalf!
But with all that, I really enjoy being in Pakistan. I just love all aspects of life there.
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.