Caritas keeps water flowing in Pakistan

Villagers celebrate 29th anniversary of a water tank installed as part of charity's drive to provide safe drinking water
Caritas keeps water flowing in Pakistan

Children dressed as angels celebrate the 29th anniversary of their community's water tank in Kotli Hajipur village in Pakistan's Punjab province. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry/ucanews.com)

Every year in winter, Catholics in a Punjabi village in Pakistan gather in their church to celebrate the anniversary of a water tank.

Children dressed as angels stand in rows near the 10-meter blue cement structure as priests arrive for a cake-cutting ceremony. "Long live Lord Jesus Christ," the faithful shout as they shower rose petals.

Father Francis Gulzar, vicar general of Lahore Archdiocese, shares the slices of cake with village elders. Sweets are also distributed after a thanksgiving Mass at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Kotli Hajipur.

"This is the first time I have celebrated the birthday of a water tank. Do not waste this ultimate commodity. This tank is a symbol of your unity," he tells the congregation.

Inscribed with Bible verses and a white cross, the water tank is the only source of water for 50 Catholic families in the small village. The late Archbishop Armando Trindade of Lahore inaugurated the project on Oct. 14, 1989.

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Besides constructing the 1,893-liter tank, the diocesan unit of Caritas Pakistan also installed an electric turbine pump and water pipes.

 

The water tank for Catholics in Kotli Hajipur village of Punjab province. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry/ucanews.com)

 

Qaiser Masih was studying in grade 6 on the day the water tank was launched.

"We worked the whole day decorating the streets. It was the answer to our prayers. I remember my mother going out with other women to collect brackish water from wells. They had to wait at least three hours for a refill," Masih, 42, tells ucanews.com.

"Our forefathers donated 76 square meters to Lahore Archdiocese for the installation of the tank. The community contributed 10,000 rupees (US$75) to the total cost of 400,000 rupees. Now we do not need a government water supply."

For almost three decades, the Catholics of Kotli Hajipur have been running this project without church funding. Running the motor for 30 minutes fulfils the daily requirements of the community. In return, each household contributes 200 rupees every month to maintain the facility.

"For weddings or funerals, the motor is switched on for longer periods. The charges increase during these months but the community trust their elders," says Masih.

Provision of safe drinking water is one of the major programs of Caritas, the biggest Catholic charity in Pakistan. The organization installed 180 hand pumps and an equal number of toilets in the apostolic vicariate of Quetta and Karachi Archdiocese last year.

Caritas teams also conducted more than 200 awareness sessions in schools and communities as well as forming water initiative committees and water family clubs. About 1,000 pamphlets on best health and hygiene practices were also distributed among students and community members.

Father Francis Gulzar shares anniversary cake with elders of Kotli Hajipur. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry/ucanews.com)

 

In 2015, Pope Francis wrote Laudato si': On Care for Our Common Home, an encyclical that urges the public to hear "both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor." The document has since become a staple of church run pro-environment groups in water-stressed Pakistan.

"The amazing story of these Catholic villagers shows how an underprivileged community can survive on its own with a little support. We focus on improving community health by providing them with access to clean water and improved sanitation facilities," says Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan.

"However, our projects can only sustain when the community takes ownership. Even government officials appreciate our trained volunteers and engage them in emergency situations."

According to the Water and Power Development Authority, Pakistan can store only 10 percent of its annual river flows. The International Monetary Fund claims Pakistan ranks third in the world among countries facing acute water shortages. Reports by the United Nations Development Program and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources also warn that the South Asian country will reach absolute water scarcity by 2025.

All churches in Lahore Archdiocese deposited parish collections from two Sundays in August in a fund initiated by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams.

In a pastoral letter, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw asked the faithful to contribute 10 rupees each towards "the national cause."

 

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