Cead Mile Failte to the WMOF2018.

“Let My People Go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness”.

“Let My People COME, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness”.

Some people have all the luck in the world.  Others get branded because of where they come from and where they were born.  This story is familiar to us all, it is a universal reality.  Here I wish to share my story as a Columban Sister, living in Pakistan for the past 28 years and show how, over the past four months our Irish image, as the country of ‘Cead Mile Failte’ may need to be re-named!

We waited until the 11th hour.  The persons in the team who were wishing to go to Ireland as members of the Diocesan Family Life Commission, Hyderabad, Sindh, were ordered to Karachi to pick up their passports two days ago (August 20th).  They already had been told that their visas were rejected and did not have enough time to appeal because it takes 8 weeks from the day it is received in the office to have any chance of a reversal of decision. But hope always springs eternal. The message had got out worldwide that our Christians in Pakistan were being marginalized from this great event, (not alone that Pope Francis was coming to Ireland but also that they could discover their identity within the Universal Church) so hopefully things might change, and some applications may be revisited and reconsidered!  Last Monday all hopes were dashed as it was ‘NO’ all around. Nobody seemed spared.

This Bible quote on Letting my people Go from the Old Testament is famous. The Lord sent Moses and Aaron to confront the stubborn leader, Pharaoh, to “Let My People Go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness”.  I returned from Ireland on July 29th where I discovered that Ireland was more of a wilderness than Pakistan.  We live in a wilderness here with temperatures rising to 50C but belonging to a persecuted Church, one discovers that there is no wilderness of faith here. Faith is deep and rich, and it is regrettable that our Irish Government has blocked these wonderful people from bringing life and hope to the world by sharing their stories. 

My relationship with the World Meeting of Families, WMOF2018, has gone back 2 years when I visited them and asked them to make sure that the Church of Asia be well represented in this forum, especially the discriminated Christian communities. I have had an ongoing relationship with them and this year again I met them and with hope alive, I returned to Pakistan to accompany our pilgrims to Ireland, so that they would be allowed through the barriers and hurdles of immigration and be given a chance to engage with the Universal Church and experience new cultures and share and listen to faith stories with people from all around the world. The day after I arrived back to Pakistan, the news broke that their visas were rejected.

As a member of the Columban Sisters Congregation International and of the Diocesan Family Life Commission, Hyderabad, Sindh, Pakistan, I took on full responsibility for our pilgrims as we Columban Sisters have been working here in Pakistan for the past 28 years and we know our people. Our Congregational Leader wrote a letter of support saying that we have sponsored them and have taken total responsibility for them and as we have done in the past, sent their exit stamp to the Irish Embassy on arrival back in Pakistan. Two of these pilgrims have already been in Ireland for other Missionary events and RETURNED. Also, the WMOF2018 has supported us all the way because of our ongoing relationship with them. Voices are shouting about the cost of the visas? A lot of money was collected in the offices etc. with no return??? 

It is too late to open files to reverse the decision because it is only two days to the Meeting, but I request you to open the files of these people and ask the question I’m asking of myself: Why? Why? Why?  As in all societies, the darnel grows with the wheat and then there is the sifting? Jesus addressed that parable, even in His time He needed to do so! 

How can the Irish Government give a blanket refusal to the Christians in Pakistan without taking the risk of trusting their Irish Citizens/missionaries on the ground in that country?  10,000 applications (as highlighted in the media) from Pakistan may have been overwhelming for the visa section of our Irish Government but that is the challenge of today, even for Mother Ireland, the land that prided itself in being called the land of the hundred thousand welcomes!  

                         Cead Mile Failte!  Where is your handshake now?

“Let My People COME, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness”.

                                                                                                           Sr. Rebecca Conlon,

                                                                                                              Columban Sisters,

                                                                                                                Pakistan