Despite rep-resenting less than two percent in a country populated almost entirely by Muslims, there are at least 1.1 million Catholics in Pakistan, a figure comparable with the number of practising Catholics for example in Great Britain. Up to 85 percent of the Christian population live in villages, mostly as “bonded labour” entirely dependent on urban-based landlords often incited by militant forms of Islam. When job vacancies arise, preference automatically goes to Mus-lims. When the Christians do get jobs – mostly as farm labourers, domestic cooks and clean-ers and road sweepers – pay is woefully poor. Child labour is commonplace – parents can’t afford education and daren’t spare them from the workplace for fear of the landlord docking their pay. Lacking identity cards and the right to vote, they have virtually no political repre-sentation. Nor do they have any legitimate access to health care.
And yet, seminaries are packed, the catechist training programmes are full, aspirants joining convents are many and the Church that suffers daily persecution is thriving. It is a young and dynamic, though very poor Church.
This crisis of education and identity among the Catholics – who see themselves and indeed are every bit as much as Pakistanis as their Islamic fellow citizens – is raising serious prob-lems for the Church. The changing situation in the country calls for new strategies. Education is key for Christians to escape ignorance and poverty. Muslims as well estimate a lot the good standard of education the Church provides. Many Muslim leaders have attended Christian schools and are far less at risk of joining extremist anti-Christian agitation.
In this situation especially, the work of the religious sisters is of particular importance. One of the very active congregations are the Daughters of St. Paul. In Pakistan they are in four com-munities in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and since 2016 in Multan united in the Pauline spirit of putting on the mind and the heart of Christ like St. Paul, in order to become all to all and to give Jesus to the world like Mary, the Queen of Apostles. This congregation was founded by an Italian priest, Fr. James Alberione in Alba, Italy in June 15, 1915. They are part of the Pauline Family: five religious institutes and five associations of pontifical approval.
The Daughters of St. Paul came to Pakistan on the 12th of August 1965 because of the great vision of the founder and co-foundress, Sr. Thecla Merlo who used to pass by Karachi port in their journey to and from the Orient. Pakistan is a very important link to reach the different countries in the world. Fr. James and Sr. Tecla prayed and worked hard to fulfill their great dream of having a community in Pakistan; a community that could pave the way for local vocations.
On June 15, 2015, as the congregation spread in 51 countries and opened the way for its 100th year foundation anniversary, the different communities in Pakistan held Masses in different Churches as thanksgiving for all the blessings received along the way of its missionary jour-neys in villages and cities, schools and hospitals, jails and resorts, parishes and homes, bring-ing the printed and audio-visual forms of the Gospel.
The Sisters in Pakistan benefit of the help from the Pauline Family. The spiritual guidance and assistance of the Society of St. Paul, whenever they are asked. As part of the Pauline Family, the daily task of the Daughters of St. Paul (FSP) is to atone for sins committed be-cause of the improper use of media. To stress the power of media as instruments for good, the congregation’s constitutions require active involvement of the Sisters in the annual celebra-tions of World Communications Day. The book centres, various book exhibits and media animations witness to the fact that media serve life.
ACN in the past has helped with a series of projects. The last one in 2018 was support for the recently founded community of the sisters in Multan diocese, located in Southern Punjab.