Just to let you know I continue to enjoy my time in Lahore. I have been doing more of the same – meeting up with friends, some for the second time. Since it is the same activity, albeit with different people, I felt I have not had “news” to post. I continue to enjoy the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feel of Lahore.
With a little more time on my hands, I have entered into deeper conversations with Columbans, people and other priests about the joys and sorrows, hopes and anxieties, difficulties and challenges that face the church and society here in Pakistan. While the threat of violence is not immediate, there are constant reminders:
- There are the violent incidents from other parts of the country reported in the daily newspapers, as I have indicated in previous posts.
- On some of the major arterial roads, there are police checks at the side of the road with automatic weapons pointed at the passing traffic!
- There is the tension of dealing with Taliban-style protagonists and the elected government, which if unresolved may spill over into civil disturbance.
- There is spiralling cost of living.
As witnessed in the installation of the Archbishop of Lahore on the 14th of February, the church is now very much indigenous or local. There are only a handful of foreign missionaries, probably less than 10% of the presbyterate, compared with just a few years ago when it would have been around a third, perhaps even as much as 50% or more when I first arrived here nearly 35 years ago. The “young” church of Lahore, which a few years ago celebrated the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the diocese, is experiencing growing pains, as priests and people find their own local identity as Punjabi church. It is wonderful to see the growth, sad to see the pains involved, but a necessary and healthy part of being church.
This is in fact true all over the world. It is not just a Pakistani or Asian phenomenon. Even the long established churches of the Middle East and Europe, North America and Australasia are having to come to terms with a world in cultural transition. So we are all facing challenges, having to reach out in new ways to the members of the church and to society in general in a rapidly changing world. It is ever a missionary task, to reach out to the world with the compassion of our loving God, by God’s grace, to bring healing, truth, life, justice, love.
The other “event” that has happened for me in these past two days is that, as per plans set in place towards the end of last year, some Columban priests and lay missionaries have arrived in Lahore from Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, the UK and the USA. With myself from Australia and some of the Columban priests and sisters here in Pakistan, we will be ten in all. We will be sharing and discussing about our involvement in Interreligious Dialogue in our respective countries of assignment and looking to plan for this apostolate in the Columban Society. Our first engagement will be participating in a Christian-Muslim Symposium being held at the Jesuit Loyola House here in Lahore. The theme is “The Sacredness of Creation: Our Common Religious Responsibility to Protect and Cherish this God-given Gift.” It promises to be very interesting. Then we will engage more deeply with each other in our specific Columban task. I look forward to the sharing.
These two events will take up the rest of this week and the weekend, shortly after which I shall be bidding my farewell to Lahore and Pakistan and resuming my onward pilgrim journey. Hence my urgency in getting to see as many people as possible in the past week (today I visited two parishes and the minor seminary, as well as joined the Columban group in a visit to the Dominican-run “United Religions Initiative” Peace House on the southern edge of Lahore). Please pray for us as we begin our interreligious deliberations.