Priesthood in Pakistan: challenges to proclaim and live the Gospel
di Ayyaz Gulzar
Lent and Easter Season a busy season for Catholic Priests in Pakistan. Presence of the Priest is highly demanded in all the programs, gathering and festivals besides the Eucharistic Celebration, the main service of the Priest. Priests have to say more than one Mass in a day also to fulfill the spiritual needs of the people during the Holy Season.
During the lent every Friday most of the Priests will begin first Mass at 12:00noon, second at 3:00p.m. and third at 6:00 p.m. The Churches are many and Priests are less in Parishes, same goes for Sunday’s Priests begin Mass at 7:00a.m. It is a big celebration, so Priests make sure their presence. Looking at the challenges Priests are facing in Pakistan. After speaking to some of the Priests, I was able to highlight some challenges our Priests are facing as a Priest in Pakistan.
Fr. Ryan Joseph, rector of St. Pius X Minor Seminary sharing his thoughts said: "The Lent Season gets much busy our Priests have to make sure that they are present for all the Friday Masses as well as Sunday Masses till the Easter time. Besides the Eucharistic Celebrations, Priests are invited in the various programs, than we have programs in Parishes, in the schools, in the Sunday Schools and the programs of the Diocesan Commissions and the ministries of the Church.
We Priests in Karachi workout our best to be available in Easter season to accompany them in meditating the mysteries of death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ", Fr. Joseph notes.
Priesthood is not a status, it’s a Sacrifice.
Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi addressed to more than 1000 congregants during a homily early this month while ordaining two new Priests in St. Patrick’s Cathedral said: “Priesthood is not a status, it’s a sacrifice. We live to sacrifice, a sacrifice we inherited and obtained from our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Being a follower of Jesus – Our high Priest, we have to sacrifice ourselves daily”.
Sharing Theological perspective Archbishop said: “In Old Testament Priests they sacrifice a lamb for the sins of the people, but in New Testament we see Jesus himself as a Sacrificial Lamb. He came to this world to be the sacrifice and He taught same to his disciples and message is same for us Priests.”
Being a Priest we not only have to serve but to sacrifice too, because being a Priest we have a biggest responsibility to Celebrate the Eucharist, the biggest Sacrifice of every day in Mass, Archbishop Coutts added.
After the ordination of the two new Priests, to cater the needs of more than 200,000 Catholics in Archdiocese of Karachi and Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad (Sindh Province) in 31 Parishes 39 diocesan Priests and 24 religious Priests of various congregations are working and are available at the service of the Church and the Community.
Less Priests, larger communities
Bishop Samson Shukardin, Chairperson of Episcopal Commission of Clergy of Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC) said: “The number of Priests is still less, in most of the parishes now we have two Priests but still in some parishes there is only one Priest. The number of Priests is less as compare to the parishioners. Our people are spread into areas and every area has its own Church because distance is another problem.”
“Instead of bringing so many people to another area, Priest sacrifices and goes to the area for the Eucharistic Celebration, there are some areas where our Priests travel 3 to 4 hours to say Mass for the faithful,” Bishop Shukardin told fides correspondent.
There are minimum 8 to 10 Churches in each Parish and the Priests in the Parish stays busy throughout week with his catechists. And many of the time Catechists have to do funerals in absence of Priests. Moreover, one Priest is involved into two to three responsibilities besides his responsibility as a priest in the Parish, Bishop added.
Pastoral Ministries of the Church
Church in Sindh is also lacking several ministries due to shortage of Priests; we are only taking care of the necessary ministries of the Church. And it’s only happening because our Priests are stretching themselves to do as much as possible.
Along with the responsibilities in the Parish, many of the Priests are also serving as a Spiritual director or Pastor for two to three ministries, offices or institutes of the Church.
It not only affecting the health of the Priests but also hinders the pastoral activities of the diocese.
In Archdiocese of Karachi, recently a Capuchin Priest has taken a Mission to serve the Christian Nurses in the diocese. Fr. Nazir John OFM Cap, a young priest who also serves as a guardian of the Capuchin formation house in Karachi speaking to fides said: “I felt this need, our people are working very hard day and night and many not get a chance to be regular for Church services and many are not strongly connected to Church due to their rotational schedule of duties, I am reaching to the hospitals to conduct pray with them and for them to counsel them.”
I wish to see them coming for Mass regularly, Fr. Nazir John added.
He informed that still many more ministries that are urgent need of the time including the Prisoners Ministry and Pro-Life Ministry.
Priests are considered married
Fr. Mario Rodrigues sharing his views to fides said: “Being a Priest in Pakistan one of the challenges is that many non-Christian people think that we are married, generally they do not have a concept of celibacy.”
Most of the time people get shocked when they come to know that our Priests don’t get married, he added.
Distances to travel
Fr. Joseph Saleem, a newly ordained Priest said: “In Europe or Christian countries, Priests do not have to travel a lot. Whereas, our distances are large, Church and communities are widely spread.”
I appreciate the zeal and enthuse of our Priests that some of the Priests are taking long journeys of 3 to 4 hours to say a Mass and be available for their people. Even our Priests in Pakistan are working hard to be available for all the set programs in the Parishes and with the communities in their respective Churches.
Terrorism another threat for Clergy
One of the Priests shared that now you can see that Priests only wear cassocks during Mass or Prayer service, not in public gatherings. Whereas, decade ago every Priest use to spent the whole day in Cassock.
Due to a wave of terrorism in the country Priests also avoid wearing Cassock outside the Church to hide their identities.
Less resources for the local Priests
In past two decades our local Priests have taken over the Church. Our Priests are working very hard but many are falling short of the resources, the community donates but occasionally. People still remember the foreigner Priests who use to financially support people, one of the senior Priests told fides.
We too get donations but in local currency that stays same, whereas foreigner Priests use to get money from their friends in abroad and after converting it into Pakistani rupees it was increased and they were able to help many, we have to struggle, He added.
He further informed that our people have a typical mindset and they think that Church has a lot of money.
Some Priests in Parishes even struggle to take care of the needs of the poor during the time of Christmas and Easter.
New Openings in Church in Pakistan:
In the history of Catholic Church in Karachi this happened for the first time that the Priests are ordained after completing their licentiate in Rome.
Both the newly ordained Priests Fr. Aamir Bhatti and Fr. Joseph Saleem entered the St. Pius Minor Seminary Karachi in 2005, St. Francis Xavier Philosophy Seminary Lahore in 2008. And then both were sent to Urbano College Rome to obtain their theological degrees.
Looking at their good results Archbishop Joseph Coutts led them to continue their studies to do licentiate. Fr. Aamir Bhatti studied Missiology and Fr. Joseph Saleem continued in Canon Law in the Urbano College.
Year 2015 marked a new history for the Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad, when looking at the good results of Seminarian in Philosophy, He sent the first candidate to Rome to study Theology and at the moment there are 2 seminarians of Hyderabad diocese are in Rome for Theological Studies.
Fortunately both the Priests had a privilege to meet Pope Francis. And told fides that Holy Father assured them that He is praying for the suffering Church in Pakistan, and HE said to tell people that they are not alone; Holy Father is with them all.
Fr. Aamir Bhatti also played Cricket for the Vatican team for 4 years.
Sharing a thought on this new opening Bishop Samson said, “It’s our desire to get more educated and qualified Priests, but shortage of Priests is also an issue.”
Vocations at Rise
The Bishops see a bright future as number of Priests in years to come will increase because at the moment there are 35 Seminarians for theological studies in Christ the King Seminary Karachi and 83 seminarians are in St. Francis Xavier Seminary to study Philosophy.
To raise vocations, Bishop Samson has also initiated a pre-seminary in his diocese, before sending a youth to be a candidate for priesthood they keep boy in this pre-seminary and train them to be a minor seminarian. During this stay diocese helps them to study and improve their linguistic skills.