Moments to remember
BY FR. ALEX KRATZ, OFM
Encountering the Church of Asia in Pakistan through our Franciscan brethren reminded Br. Vince Delorenzo and me of the global stretch of our brotherhood and that "friars are friars" wherever they are!
During our recent visit we certainly learned by experience Pope Francis’s preference for "a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets" (Evangelii Gaudium, 49) as we were led by different friars through the urban slums of Karachi and Hyderabad. We came face-to-face with the poverty of origins of the friars – whose families we visited – and many Pakistani Christians dwelling in the outlying tribal regions of southeastern Pakistan, where some live in one-room huts.
Having Mass outdoors on the ground at night, illuminated by portable lighting, with the children enthusiastically singing in Urdu only reinforced the Holy Father’s continuous call for a "Church which is poor and for the poor." It also reminded me, especially as we consulted with the friars, of the need to inculturate the faith and present an "Asian" face of Jesus that Pakistanis can relate to. Truly, it was a memorable experience and we continue to hold close to our hearts the friars and the many people we met in Pakistan.
Among the highlights of our visit:
Vince and I were immediately initiated into the maelstrom of Pakistani traffic: "Each driver for himself." (I never saw a female driver.) We were both convinced that we couldn’t drive in that chaos!
Once we arrived where the friars lived, we discovered what a massive walled-in complex they inhabited. Besides the Custody house, we saw the national seminary and its dormitory, the National Center of Theology, a basketball court, a large garden, Marian grotto, a Franciscan Center for handicapped children and the Novitiate – only a few of the spaces and buildings.
We were present for the christening of the Novitiate to which our province contributed. It houses approximately 10 men, with a nearby residence able to house three to four more. Many of these novices had never had their own room until they moved here.
Vocations! A highlight was seeing numerous young men – four novices now and up to nine next year – plus other students in the initial formation process clothed in brown or white habits. Two young men, Vicky and Sharuhk, are up for solemn profession Aug. 2. We assured them of our prayers.
The music was very distinct. The musicians all sat on the ground playing a small set of drums, a "squeezebox" and cymbals that combined to create a unique liturgical sound to accompany the Pakistani friars who all knew the songs for Mass by heart. Few used songbooks.
The Assembly was a highlight as we broke open Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, and got to know the friars and their many personalities. (Friars are friars in that regard.) JPIC Animator Guy David, OFM, shared a presentation.
The pollution was not a highlight, but it was everywhere. Public trash receptacles were non-existent, but sewage and polluted water – including the river in Karachi – were openly visible. Living Laudato Si’ couldn’t be more needed for the Pakistani people for their own self-empowerment, especially the urban and rural poor.
Learning about and observing tribal ministry was a great highlight, even though a sadness pervaded the situation of injustice Christian and Hindu farmers face from their Muslim overlords. The clear feudal social structure felt like traveling back in time to St. Francis’s society and the non-representative governance laden with the threat of social violence it was trying to leave behind. All the friars come from very humble origins, with some families living in huts without running water or electricity. (The friars who pioneered tribal ministry lived in the same kind of huts – sharing the people’s poverty.) The social living arrangements of the tribes we visited, especially close to the border of India in the Diocese of Hyderabad, reminded Vince of the indigenous people (Native Americans) of the Southwest. Some families lived on the equivalent of $50 a month. Women faced grueling work from morning to night, and in some tribal areas had to walk behind the men.
Home visitation was a true highlight. A family would not sit at the same level as us friars, saying they did not feel worthy to sit equal to "men of God." We were always offered tea and sweets (a legacy of the British occupation) and sometimes a meal. These domestic glimpses into family life were precious – showing us the real face of Pakistani Christians and the faith that animates them in the face of great adversity.