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In pursuit of a truly local Church

There's a lot more to localising than just having Pakistani-born clergy

  • 'Silent Thinker', Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • January 9, 2012
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The transition from an era of foreign missionaries to a local Church is almost at an end in Pakistan but the real change is yet to come.

This struck me after a long conversation with a senior part-time catechist on Christmas Eve. We were in a Christian slum in Lahore where the midnight Mass was delayed because of power cuts. It is easy in our part of the world to get engaged in lengthy conversation especially when you have got nothing to do except sit in the dark. The topical nature of our discourse made it even more revealing.

The guy had worked for more than 26 years in the parish but was having a tough time this Christmas. Apparently he had not met his “target” of getting the monthly offertory from 60 to 70 families and the parish priest was none too happy about it.

“I know a few other catechists whose hearths lay cold these winters. The monthly expenses for my child are more than the Christmas bonus I get each year ... I would have been on a good wage scale if I had opted for another profession,” said the catechist who used to work with missionaries for around two decades.

Pursuit of an autonomous, participatory and local Church has been the biggest challenge for the Catholic Church for many years. According to senior clergy, finance is the biggest challenge for the Catholic Church in Pakistan today. Proper management of institutions is a big concern for bishops.

The priests have been, and are, making many attempts to realize this goal. Parishioners are presently being encouraged to give something back in return for what the Church has done for them over many years. This includes promoting lay leadership, looking for  more donations, boosting local vocations and arranging funding for basic Church needs: construction, repairs and maintenance are to name a few.

Missionaries mostly used to manage these issues, helped in the main through their contacts abroad. Whenever they were away on a holiday or mission, they always returned with cash.

However, many local priests now see this as having caused more harm than good.

“As much as we appreciate their sowing the seeds of faith; their imperial attitude negated human dignity turning locals into beggars. We can preach better; we know them [local people] better and thus can guide the faithful better,” a senior Punjabi priest told me.

The Catholic Church in Pakistan now almost has a local face. Among the seven present bishops, six are Pakistanis. However, two among them were born in India from where we inherited the mission.

The same trend continues slowly in foreign congregations. The year 2011 saw the ordination of the first Pakistani Camillian priest in Faisalabad diocese. This followed the 2009 ordination of the first Pakistani Jesuit in Lahore.

Having a local face does not mean it’s a local Church. This will come from within enculturation, contextualizing the way of prayer and celebrating liturgy, following new modules of interfaith dialogue as well as implementing social teachings of the Church (especially through the press and media).

Our Church is still Roman in many aspects. It still has a long way to go from being introvert, narrow and fearful to becoming traditional and institutionalized. The new leaders must strive to rediscover Pakistani Christians rather than producing Christians in Pakistan. Investing in the formation of laity is equally important as empowering Church institutions.

Likewise, a priest who fills a spot left vacant by a missionary has to tread very carefully. Simple things like frequent visits from families or relatives to the parish house can affect their relations with the communities. Burdening an already struggling middle class, which most Pakistani Christians are, with funding requests won’t do any good.

People love their priests, foreign or locals, and likewise priests must “show” their love and support for the flock.

Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore

 

 
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