Into the Heart of Pakistan
By: Sr. Perlita Ponge
Sr. Perlita is a Filipino Columban who worked in Peru as a missionary. Having been transferred to the Columban mission in Pakistan she describes her new beginning.
“OUR HOLY WEEK celebration started on Holy Thursday, when Fr. Brendan Kennedy brought Sr. Maureen Donhoe and me to, a Parkari Kohli village. We arrived at 6:00 p.m. and were greeted by the village elders. After drinking a welcome glass of cold water, we went house to house meeting the villagers. The men were busy preparing a meal in huge pots while the women cleaned up around their homes.
The colorful clothes they wore stood out in sharp contrast to the dusty paths and mud walls of the houses. Outside each housed was a mound of dried mud. We were told that grains is stored inside the mounds. To make sure we had understood, one woman broke a hole in one of the mounds.
Speaking with Signs
As the sun went down we sat with a group of women and children trying to communicate as best we could through signs. Here we had our first language class, picking up words from them and sharing in their delight when we pronounced them correctly.
Feeding the Five Thousand
As the darkness fell, everyone gathered at the centre of the village for supper. As we sat their on the path beneath the starry sky and looked around, the feeding of the five thousand seemed to be happening again as food was passed around everyone ate.
During the Mass, held in the open air, sweets and flowers were offered as gifts and then distributed to everyone at the end of the Mass. This was something new for us. After the Mass we walked in procession in the moonlight to a house the Adoration of the Blessed Sacraments was to take place. They haven’t even a small chapel in the village.
Women don’t Attend Funerals
On Good Friday we visited a Punjabi community of people who work in one of the sugar mills. Before the service we were asked to pray for a woman of the community who had died. We followed others to the house where we found men praying and women crying and lamenting
We were surprised to find that the woman had already been buried. But then we were told that women don’t attend burials and so they continue to grieve together long after the burial.
Not Like the Philippines
On the Holy Saturday, we stayed in the parish. The Church was a blaze of colors. A small group came for the service. It was estranged to be with so few people after Holy week in Peru and the Philippines where large crowds gather for the services.
Intriguing Musical Instruments
Easter Sunday was quite a contrast as many came dressed in every color imaginable. It was really a festive occasion. We were intrigued by the musical instruments and the beauty of music and singing. Small children put rose garlands around Fr. Denis Carter, the celebrant.
Muslim Greets Christians
During the Mass a man walked up to the altar, gave flowers to Fr. Denis and placed a garland on the Statue of Our Lady. He noticed us and placed rose petals in our hands. He then threw flowers into the Church. We discovered later he was a Muslim who had come to greet the people for Easter. After the Mass, everyone gathered and had a meal together.
This Easter experience marked the beginning of our mission among the people of the Sind. It was challenging, surprising and life giving.
“I got on the bus and sat down. The seat beside me remained empty. When the conductor came he demanded I pay for the two seats –mine and the vacant one beside me. I was a woman, a foreigner, and in his eyes I had no right to be out on my own. Women in Pakistan are not the favored gender.”
-a Columban Sister