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Missionary of mountains dies of Covid-19 in Pakistan

Irish Mill Hill Father Thomas Rafferty sought out and served neglected Catholics near the Afghanistan border

Missionary of mountains dies of Covid-19 in Pakistan

Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi at the funeral Mass of Mill Hill Missionary Father Thomas Bernard Rafferty at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Rawalpindi on May 10. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry/UCA News)

Pakistani Catholics are mourning an Irish missionary who served among scattered Catholics communities amid the Taliban insurgency in the rugged regions of northern Pakistan.

Mill Hill Missionary (MHM) Father Thomas Bernard Rafferty, 75, died of Covid-19 on May 9 in Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

More than 20 priests concelebrated his funeral on May 10 with Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Rawalpindi. A requiem Mass will take place on May 11 in Holy Name Parish of Nowshera cantonment in the northern province.

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In 1987, the late Simeon Pereira of Islamabad-Rawalpindi permitted Father Rafferty to start the mission in the foothills of the Himalayas, especially through the Swat valley and the Karakoram mountains. The tribal areas of the north are predominantly inhabited by Pashtun who identify themselves with members of the same tribe across the border in Afghanistan.

“He felt that nobody wanted to visit the Christians in the far-flung northern areas. Priests are more interested in big cities and wealthy parishes,” Father Nasir William, director of the Commission for Social Communications in Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese, told UCA News.

“Instead of parish responsibilities, he dedicated his life to search for these neglected Christians. He used to travel on the road for even 30 hours. He inspired missionary zeal in the local Church. In 1988, he founded the Missionaries of Saint Thomas Apostle sisters to serve the isolated faithful.”

In 1973, he built houses for 118 families of Josephabad following devastating floods and introduced a tractor in the village

Father Rafferty, nicknamed Father Tom, continued his mission despite the insurgency of the Taliban who waged a bloody campaign to impose strict Islamic laws and oust Pakistan’s democratically elected government. The government finally regained control of the area following a military offensive launched in 2009.

Father Rafferty was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Church, Donaghmore, County Meath, Ireland, on June 27, 1970, by Bishop John McCormack of Manchester. In November 1970, he started his ministry in Gujarat city of Punjab province with fellow MHMs.

In 1973, he built houses for 118 families of Josephabad following devastating floods and introduced a tractor in the village. In 1975, he facilitated the electric supply in Josephabad and built several small churches in the parish. He aided Afghan refugees following the Soviet invasion in 1979. In 2010, he founded St. Joseph Colony and handed over free houses among flood survivors.

The Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi was originally established in 1887 as the Apostolic Prefecture of Kafiristan and Kashmir and was entrusted to MHMs, headquartered in Rawalpindi.

“I express my condolences to MHMs who took the responsibility of our diocese. It is a big loss for all of us. Only four MHMs remain in the country now,” said Archbishop Arshad.

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