It was back in 1934, a Dominican in Multan, Fr. Cialeo, asked the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena Congregation’s superiors in Rome to send sisters as missionaries in the Sub-Continent of India. He received an enthusiastic response, and six sisters were chosen. They prepared themselves for mission and sacrifice, and took to heart the many words of wise, kindly advice he wrote to them. He urged them first and foremost to be good sisters, then to be strong-willed, to be prepared to take risks and initiatives, to adopt the local culture and learn the local language. “The mission presents a vast activity of work,” he wrote, “and I am confident that your apostolate will bear fruit abundantly. You will teach catechism to women, educate the young and give assistance to the sick. These are the challenges to be addressed.” He arranged for them to pass the first year near him while they became used to the climate and culture. He wrote, “We have found a house for the sisters in Multan, and I went to see it myself. It is beautiful and comfortable, and the sisters will certainly feel at home there. We have rented it for one year, for the sum of 62 Rupees.”
The sisters, prepared in mind and spirit, packed their bags and baggage and set out on the long sea voyage, confident of God’s protection and eager for the challenges ahead. Like Catherine the sisters truly lived St. Paul’s words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). It was 1934.
After the year in Multan, on 25 November 1935 the pioneers moved to Lyallpur, the city which was to become the “cradle” of our mission. The beginnings were difficult: while still learning the language and adapting to culture and climate, they also had to get used to challenging conditions such as small airless rooms and a high boundary wall, isolation and limited resources. They fell sick, and there was a lack of funds from Rome. Some of the councillors in Rome suggested closing this mission project, but Mother Chiara Apollonio, a woman of great faith and apostolic zeal, gave strong support, and sent financial help for building work.
The sisters had great faith, a profound and sincere trust in God’s grace, and confidence in his generosity. Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of love that God continually renews to nourish the journey of faith, to strengthen hope and to inflame charity, to make more and more like him.
As time passed, the group grew steadily and put down firm roots. Vocations began to flourish, a formation house was established, new houses, schools and dispensaries were opened.
There have been many major trials, such as the Second World War, and partition of the subcontinent into two separate states. There have been periods of martial law, and wars with India in 1965 and 1971. Blood has been shed in religious conflicts, and the blasphemy law has made our Christian lives and witness difficult. Private schools have been nationalised. Heavy rains and flooding (especially recently) have added to the distress of those already living in dire poverty.
Our six sisters with temporary vows, six Novices, six Postulants and six Aspirants are a sign of the Province’s vitality and its hopes for the future. Silver and Golden Jubilees of religious profession have been important moments to rejoice in God’s faithfulness. And after 75 years, there have been two Pakistani members of the Congregation’s General Council.
All these years, we have experienced some animating and inspiring moments. We have rejoiced taking part in local events and taken interest in local issues. Local realities have formed and shaped us and has opened new horizontals and orientations. We have got the chance to comprehend Islam in order to relate with people and attended seminars.
Today we are in five dioceses, with a variety of apostolates and activities. We have 14 houses. We have 16 schools (both English and Urdu Medium) both in villages and in cities, dispensaries, outreach programmes, hostels and orphanages. The Miss Haq Home cares for those with special needs. We collaborate with the laity in parish work, catechising and working with groups. We even have Pakistani sisters working as missionaries in Africa and Europe, a sure sign that our Province has reached maturity.
Bishop Cialeo, Sisters Lucy, Jacqueline and Iginia in their leadership roles, and the many Italian sisters who came to spend their whole lives in mission here. May they RIP. Sisters Imelda, Letizia, Gabriella and Adeodata, and Sisters Tommasina, Razia, Lillian, and Angelina who have given service in leadership; Sr Alessia for her long and inspiring service in the Miss Haq Home. May she RIP. The enthusiastic, faithful and hard-working sisters of the Province, young and old render their services in St. Joseph’s Province, Pakistan.
Infact, the biggest activity of our mission is administering many schools (Urdu and English as well) and health centres in Pakistan, where everyone is welcomed with no difference of colour and religion, getting education and formation and building up their character and personality gives us hope and inspiration for our further mission.
Being a few, minority, little nobody is awful, yet we are eager to continue our mission in Pakistan, sharing in the joys and sufferings of many with our effective presence. Yes, we have the reasons to do so. We are the followers of Christ Crucified who came to serve and not to be served. He was found among the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes and died for us all. Thus we heal and promote life.
No action is itself an action on behalf of peace. Big and hot issues like, terrorism, suicide bombing, blasphemy majority accuses and rejects the weaker ones. What is our role? Martyrdom, a big challenge to us and to our society. And the resurrected Jesus strengthens the resurrected community.
A big issue of Peace and Justice, our sisters and many other Congregations are working upon this reality plus day to day efforts are made to improve Christian - Muslim dialogue, Interreligious faith dialogue etc….
Though the sisters are involved in many activities yet it demands more availability, sacrifice and hard work. Justice has a constitutive dimension of preaching, where the Word heals, clarifies, condemns, explains and changes people’s thinking and ideas. “Put your nets into the deep water” said Jesus to his disciples and what a big catch!! They had. Yes, there is a big need to cultivate good relationships among ourselves and with other religions. Reinforcing equality, tolerance and solidarity and certain wisdom and comprehension to take risks and to make choices to serve humanity. This Family has to be expanded and to witness locally and universally, with people who are generous, kind and ready to give their time and talent. Life for the better cause.
St. Catherine speaking about St. Dominic used to say, “He received the office of the WORD”, we, all men and women are called by profession to this mission. Today, as ever before a need is to be completely possessed by the Word of God. God made flesh, made history, made concrete. This God made flesh, invites us for conversion continuously, and to the Gospel values. This is the only way we can spread the kingdom of God.
We place all in God’s hands. Years of grace and joy, years of hardship and suffering. Years of prayer and praise, of laughter and tears. We place in his hands our work, our failures, our love and our hopes. We place our past, our present and our future. We renew the gift of our lives - for God’s glory, and for this beloved land of Pakistan. May he guide and guard us always. Amen.
Sr Lillian, Prioress Provincial (Faisalabad)
28 April 2017