A few years ago I was with a Church convoy carrying relief aid for flood victims. All our vehicles were crammed, so one of the priests tried to join the bishop in his car. One second later he got out and climbed into an overloaded pick up truck. The bishop preferred to travel alone. That memory came back to me last week after I listened to one of the speakers at a seminar titled Memories, Demands and Hopes, to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Franciscan Father Louis Mascarenhas was speaking about areas in which the Catholic Church needs to focus more. “We live in a feudal system which affects the life of the Church,” he said. “How often I have pleaded for the ordination rite of priests and bishops – a rite where we want to stress service – to include the symbolic washing of feet.” Father Mascarenhas, now 79, is one of the few priests who “actively” advocate the teachings of Vatican II. A major reason for that is because he had the opportunity to assist the first Pakistani Cardinal, Joseph Cordeiro, at the Council. Now his legacy is endangered; not many priests or nuns talk about Vatican II any more. For around 30 nuns who attended the seminar, it was the first time they had been told about it. This is not good. The post-Vatican Pentecostal experience is still not bearing the expected fruit. Many beautiful social encyclicals are gathering dust, waiting for someone to decipher them in simple language. The Church is still lacking in its day-to-day dealings with people. Take the wages of workers in Catholic institutions for example. The monthly salary of a teacher is generally 8,000 rupees (US$83) while a priest earns 15,000 and has no family to feed. I have other concerns as well. The Conference of Religious Superiors, though an important Church institution, suffers from the same weaknesses as our local bishops. Many Religious priests forget their charism and appear simply as diocesan priests in Religious garb. Our dioceses have good catechetical and pastoral centers yet catechesis still remains weak. This is a serious shortcoming for the minority who live in this increasingly fundamentalist society where Islam alone is dominant. When it comes to formation, the Church always finds ways to spend money on formation of priests but very little on the formation of laity. And isn’t it strange that there is no liturgy for harvest time, even though we are an agricultural country? The purpose of highlighting all this does not mean I am against the Catholic Church. In fact it is my love for Church that prompts me to raise these concerns. The young Church of Pakistan should make space for democratic opinion and allow freedom of speech – as well as critical editorials. It should train more lay Catholics, develop them into leaders and make them an essential part of pastoral planning. There should be more concerted efforts to promote the teachings and recommendations of the Council and turn them into a movement. Our clergy and Religious need to remind themselves of the “do more list” for the animation of their people. Formation, contemplation and theology in context are some of the important themes that need to be further developed in our country. Failure to do so will increase the desperation that the Religious and pastoral leadership feels. This will increase the laity’s perception of them as voiceless and less important. The Church should make full use of this extraordinary historical opportunity. Fifty years later, it is time for a fresh start. Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore.
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