The Gospel Amid Uncertainty

Australian Columban Fr Robert McCulloch was ordained in 1970. He served in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental, Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, from 1971 till 1974 before going to Rome and Washington DC for studies. He arrived in Pakistan early in January 1979 as a member of the first group of Columbans to go there. Among other things, Father McCulloch lectures at the Theological Institute in Karachi. Here he tells us how missionary work in Pakistan means serving the love of God in a climate of violence, poverty and injustice. 

I would not have been able to sustain myself in my work as a Columban missionary priest if I had looked for immediate results during my 29 years in Pakistan. Year by year, I have come to understand that the real issue is to serve for the love of God, not to look at what I have in my hand or what I can count.

Asking Real Questions

We face tough questions here: How do we continue with the ongoing formation and preparation of liturgical leaders while there is a famine affecting a third of the diocese? How do we plan when there is news of a church being burned down or a convent being attacked by a wild but well-organized mob with the connivance of police and approval of town authorities?

But here are what the real questions should be, about the reality of Pakistani Christians and my presence as a missionary: Is the Gospel lived? Is the Gospel seen to be lived? Is the Gospel shared? Is the Gospel accepted? What are the results from living the Gospel?

On the occasion of Pakistan’s independence on 14 August 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the nation’s founder and first governor-general, called on all Pakistanis to continue attending their mosques, churches and temples and invited them to unite in building their new nation.

Sixty years later, Pakistani Christians live in an atmosphere of spoken and unspoken threat, marginalized by 30 years of unjust political and legal process. So the questions I have posed about living and accepting the Gospel have to be asked within the social, economic and political reality of the lives of Pakistani Christians.

Casting bread – Casting nets
Being a Catholic in Pakistan means I am part of the eight percent of people - Hindus, Christians and Sikhs - who are not Muslim.

Pakistani Muslims must decide for themselves whether Islam can be lived in the reality of 21st-century Pakistan or only according to the standards of 7th-century Arabia.

Pakistani Muslims must decide for themselves whether the fundamentalist call to jihad (religious war against people who are not Muslims) has any basis in their religion.

Pakistani Muslims must decide if the teaching of the Qur’an (Islam’s holy book) permits them to enter into religious dialogue with believers of other faiths.

If and how they consider and resolve these issues will influence the way they interact with Christians and how Christians will interact with them.

If we cast our bread upon the water, cast out the nets from the other side of the boat, what will be the outcome?

Uncertain Certainty
This ‘uncertain certainty’ is how I describe my life and work in Pakistan. I have lived in the Thar Desert and in small villages within the city of Karachi.

With the encouragement and help of friends and Columban supporters, I have been involved in a variety of projects: a primary and secondary school network in the Thar Desert in the interior of the Sindh Province; a hepatitis B and C prevention and management center; the major renovation of St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Hyderabad and the development of its School of Midwifery; and mobile vaccination programs for tribal women and their children.

In September 2006, we started a much-needed and long-planned home-based palliative care service for the terminally ill at St Elizabeth’s Hospital. It’s the first program of its type in Pakistan.

These programs are flourishing, and their operation is in the hands of competent Pakistanis.

In addition, I have found writing and translating theological books into the local Urdu language a challenging work for the past eleven years.

Particularly satisfying was working with the academic staff of the Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Australia, to bring about the association of the National Catholic Institute of Theology in Karachi with the Melbourne College of Divinity (MCD). This means that Pakistani theological students can now obtain a bachelor of theology degree from the University of Melbourne, with which MCD is affiliated.

Hope in the midst of mayhem
I have experienced great hope in Pakistan despite the cycles of mayhem, murder and bigoted violence.

A Hindu religious leader, Pabhu Bhagat, was a bitter enemy of Christians, having taken a public oath never to speak with them. Nevertheless, we ensured that he received the life-saving operation he needed in late 1986. In June 2006, 20 years later, he invited me to his house for dinner and friendship.

Muslim lawyers in Karachi, impressed with the genuine simplicity of ordinary Christians, ask to know more about their faith.

Muslims have fasted during Ramadan, and Catholics have fasted during Lent, sitting together to share their experience of the fullness of God.

Muslim, Hindu and Christian medical personnel have together planned how best to help the poorest, those in the greatest need.

You may write the author at Columban House, C-6/2-B. 3rd Street, Bath Island, KARACHI, PAKISTAN or email him at

Related Information
Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference

Melbourne College of Divinity:

This year Ramadan begins in the Americas on 31 August and in the rest of the world the following day. 
It ends on 29 September.