The Book of Eccleasticus tells us that for everything under the sun there is a season…a time to be happy, a time to cry; a time to remember, a time to forget. This Season for us Columban Sisters in Pakistan is a time to remember and a time to reflect and be joyful as we celebrate our Silver Jubilee of Presence in Pakistan.
Revisiting the moments when we, Srs. Joan McDermott, Maureen Donohoe, Perlita Ponge, Rebecca Conlon and Rita Deegan arrived in Pakistan 25 years ago in 1990, into a province steeped in dark clouds of ethnic division, we gradually became aware of the reality of our new mission when we were eventually rushed to Hyderabad, our destination, where all roads were to be closed at 5p.m. as curfew was declared!
Now twenty five years on, celebrating our Silver Jubilee of Presence in Pakistan on April 7th 2015 where three of the original group were present, Joan, Perlita and Rebecca, together with Srs. Marie Galvin, Roberta Ryan and our Asian Leadership Team: Srs. Susanna Choi, Sofia Natama and Yoon Mi, was an experience of Easter rising and transformation as the memories were gathered and the blessings of the 25 years were scattered. The place was alive with activity. The rough ground was made smooth and covered with red carpets, 300 chairs were dressed up individually in black and gold frilly cloths, pictures of the Risen Lord were put hanging up over the altar, the angelic altar girls were dressed filled with anticipation, the altar was decorated befitting the occasion, the choir was tuning up, ready to go, the guests were seated, the children were hushed and the our small Church compound turned into a cathedral awaiting a great event. The procession started to the rhythm of the choir, singing their hearts out as they set the tone for the whole celebration. Bishop Samson Shukardin, O.F.M. newly ordained Bishop of Hyderabad and our previous Parish Priest was the main celebrant. He was accompanied by Bishop Max Rodrigues together with eight priests concelebrating which included three Columban Fathers: Frs. Daniel, Tony and Tomas. The liturgy was participative including many of our friends who have walked the walk with us. Bishop Samson recalled in his homily how we came in tense times and even now 25 years on we still have our ‘strike days’ fraught with political emotion, often resorting to violence but that such days do not hinder the Sisters in their work as they are filled with the fire of their charism just like those in the beginning, their founders, who went to China in difficult times. This flame of the charism is still evident and alive in the Sisters today as they brave the challenges of Pakistan. He declared that the Sisters are now Pakistani! With that, there was loud applause!
The Offertory Procession captured up the works of the Sisters over their years of service: faith formation; working with tribal peoples, with people with special needs and women on the margins; education, not forgetting our co-workers who are our hands and feet and who can go to places where we, as foreigners, cannot go.
The solemnity of the Eucharistic celebration led to the blessing of the new Community Centre and Good Shepherd Tuition Centre which has been run for our Christian children by the Columban Sisters for the past five years. The Blessing was followed by a variety programme of songs, dances, poems and a tableau presented by the children of the Tuition Centre. Then a shadow theatre presentation on the life of St. Columban was graphically portrayed in a creative and gripping way and this left a deep impression on all. Having enlightened everyone on who St. Columban was and knowing that the day was far spent with a lot of energized good will that kept the whole programme going, it was time to sit down together and enjoy the delicious food prepared for all, this special day.
To sum up the experience, one can see how lives have been poured out in loving service here in Pakistan these past 25 years and now in return, for this special event, how our Christian community poured out their lives in the self-giving of selfless energy that made this day a big hit! The youth gave of themselves tirelessly bearing the heat of the day and our co-workers made sure everything was in order. Bishop Samson claimed us as Pakistani and that said it all! We were all ‘at home’.
By: Sr. Rebecca Conlon
Interview between Sr. Anne Carbon and Mr. Jawed Munawer in the Columban Sisters’ house, Hyderabad, Pakistan in December 2014.
Sr. Anne: How did you get to know the Columban Sisters?
Jawed: It was at a Social Justice Sunday programme about 15 years ago when I was approached by a Columban Sister who was a member of the Justice and Peace Team, to attend a Parish programme in St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, Hyderabad. For this particular Social Justice programme the topic was to get our people to reflect on their own realities…the crosses they are carrying and to seek a just way in dealing with them. I was approached because I am an artist and I had to listen to six small groups sharing their stories and depict it in an art form in the shape of a cross which would be presented to the congregation the following Sunday. This was my first meeting with the Columban Sisters as well as my first introduction to J&P…..both incidents have changed my life.
Sr. Anne : You said you have known Columban Sisters for 15 years, how do you see their work?
Jawed: Many people have life because of the Columban Sisters whether it is through Education, Health, and jail ministry…whatever. They are like Mother Mary to me and many others. People’s lives have changed because of them because they offer support and encouragement to the broken.
Sr. Anne: How do you experience working with foreign women in an Islamic State?
Jawed: Life is difficult for women in Pakistan but I see these women are not afraid. They are like our famous cricketer Shoab Akhtar…they go and strike the ball and do not stop at any problems that arise daily here in Pakistan. They do take precautions as we have many strike days and violence to cope with. They even had to stay indoors for days and even up to a month because of danger but yet they are like our cricketer and aim at the wickets! I know it is especially difficult for them as foreigners but no Pakistani woman works as hard as they do. When the earthquake happened in 2005 these Sisters were a lesson to me because we Pakistani people do not take up such a struggle. It was no bother for them to go thousands of kilometers up to the high mountains of Kashmir and build houses for the people there. I escorted them and learnt so much from them. Because of being foreigners and women it was difficult for them to deal with everything and I was able to be of service to them and became their Project Manager. Their work was complete within months while NGO’s work that was started then are still ‘work in progress’.
Sr. Anne: What is it like for you to be a Christian in Pakistan?
Jawed: You know how difficult it is to be a Christian in Pakistan….. It affects us at all levels in life. Opportunities may be there for jobs etc. but when it comes to selecting the person, we Christians do not hold a chance. The Founder of the Nation wished to have equality for all but this dream was never made a reality. But I have made friends outside of Pakistan as I remember Srs. Rose, Ann Gray, Fr. Tanvir, Fr. Pat Raleigh, Sr. Sheila Crowe, Fr. Paul, Fr. Derry and many others as well as the families of the Sisters who made me so very welcome in Ireland.
Mr. Jawed has worked with the Columban Sisters for the past fifteen years and is their Project Manager in Pakistan. He oversaw projects for the Sisters like building houses in Muzafferabad for people left homeless after the earthquake in 2005 and he was instrumental in the building of forty houses for a tribal people also left homeless after the floods that devastated Pakistan. Mr. Jawed was invited to Ireland by Mission Alive on two occasions because he is a Christian artist who excels in Christian calligraphy and later he returned to Ireland to thank the people of Ireland for their help for the people of Pakistan during the terrible floods. He lives in Hyderabad, Pakistan with his wife and five children.