Oblates in Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta, Pakistan
Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam; it is the major religion in Pakistan. Beside Muslim majority a few minorities also live side by side namely Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, and Agha Khani etc. There are about seven different religions. More than 3% of the total population belongs to other religions. In this Muslim country, after Hindus, Christians are the second largest group of the religious minority, representing about 1.6 % of the population.
Arrival of Christianity in Pakistan
The history of Christianity in Pakistan is often traced back to the Apostles of Jesus Christ. The tradition tells us that the Apostle Thomas came to sub-continent called Hindustan to preach the Gospel during the reign of King Gondulphares ruling the territory, today known as Sirkap, Taxila. The archaeologists were able to find the Taxila-Cross in 1935 which is an authentic indication of Christianity present here from the first century. The Cross was discovered from the ancient town of Sirkap. Its origin has been dated back to the 2nd Century. Today the Taxila Cross is safely kept in the Anglican Cathedral in Lahore, Pakistan.
The Arrival of the Oblates in Pakistan
At the invitation of Benedict Cialeo OP, Bishop of Lyallpur (Faisalabad), three Oblate Missionaries from Sri Lanka arrived in Pakistan on February 14, 1971. When the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to Pakistan, the diocese had a great need of Priests. In 1971 Faisalabad Dioceses had only 20 priests. It covered an area of 29,000 sq km. At the time the Diocese had about 65.000 Catholics, served by 20 priests (13 Dominicans and 7 diocesans) of whom 9 priests were over 60 years old. The bishop had requested Fr. Lucien Schmitt OMI the Oblate Provincial in Sri Lanka for help. The Provincial felt the need of the time and took the bold step of sending three Oblate priests to Pakistan. On the 14th of February 1971 the first batch of three Oblate Priests, Fr. Lester Silva, Fr. Basil Silva and Fr. Theogenes Joseph arrived.
On the 18th of February the contract between the Diocese and the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate was signed by Benedict Cialeo OP and the Oblate Provincial Fr. Lucien Schmitt OMI. After studying Urdu for four months, the Oblates were assigned to different parishes in the Diocese. On the 25th of October the first missionaries received official letters of appointment from the Bishop. Their appointments were as follows; Fr. Lester Silva in Gojra, Fr. Bob Basil Silva in Chak Jhumra and Fr. J, Theogenes in Okara. Each priest looked after about 50 villages where a few Christians lived among the Muslims. Gradually the Oblates extended their apostolic mission to the other dioceses like Multan, Lahore, Hyderabad, and Karachi.
Invitation for the Oblates to the Holy Rosary Parish in Quetta
On 5th of May, 1980 Bonaventure P. Paul OFM the Bishop of Hyderabad Diocese wrote to Rev. Fr. Bernard Quintus the Oblate Provincial in Sri Lanka…. “I have not approached any other congregation. I am holding on to the Oblates from Sri Lanka for the obvious that:
- They being Asians, they are in a better position to adjust themselves to the country and the people.
I appreciate the type of work being done by the Oblates in the Punjab, and I wish that they work along the same lines in the Diocese of Hyderabad too; to promote lay apostolate and bring about a sense of responsibility to the local Church”.
The Area of the Parish
In March 1981, two oblates, Fr. Maximux Peter Fernando and Fr. Percy Mariathas were sent to Quetta Parish to see the area and observe the situation. In the parish a priest had to cover the whole city and the out stations as well. The Christian communities were spread far and wide all over the mountainous territories in Baluchistan. It included the sub-stations in Loralai, Zhob, Pishin, Chaman, Sibi, Mach, Mastung, Muslim Bagh, Dalbandin, Gulistan, Sheila Bagh, Kalat, Noshki, Ahmedwal, Nokhundi, Kolpur, and Dhadar .
Holy Rosary Parish Officially Handed over to the Oblates
The Oblates took the charge of the Parish on the 10th of September, 1982. After finishing his studies in America, Fr. Theogenes Joseph (Theo) returned back in September 1982, and was appointed the first Oblate Parish Priest in Quetta. After spending some time and having had concrete observations Fr. Theo wrote to Fr. Victor Gnanapragasam, the Delegation Superior, reminding the words of Bishop Bonaventure “One of the great, great drawback of Quetta is the sharp, sharp, sharp distinctions”. We the Oblates here, feel that Bishop is right in his saying because we need to take up this challenge with the proper animation and coordination of the Parish. Our first priority should be the most abandoned Christian faithful.
His ministry of evangelization is based on three levels which are: institutional level, social level and basic level. He arranged regular gatherings of the parishioners to evaluate the situation of the Parish and to present some helpful solutions. Father demanded great patience from the parishioners for the dreams of success. After eleven years of hard work, Fr. Theo was able to see the Parish in the right direction. There were forty Sunday schools in different places in the whole Parish. These Sunday schools were run by the lay faithful. They were teaching the basic catechism to the children. The literate volunteer teachers took these responsibilities for the mission of God. There was a better understanding and collaboration among the priests and the parishioners. A priest could not go to every substation due to the vastness of Parish and shortage of priests in the diocese. Fr. Theo took the bold step to prepare the lay people who could take this responsibility willingly to work in their own communities. It was Father Theo who involved the lay faithful in the ministry of education and in conducting the prayer services. The best thing done by Fr. Theo was to ensure discipline in everything, such as Sunday schools, choir groups, and liturgical celebration and in the Parish records.
Holy See Announces Quetta as Prefecture
The mission of Quetta was given to the Oblates in 1982 by the diocese of Hyderabad. Then, there was only one parish (Holy Rosary) The Holy Father John Paul II made an announcement of the establishment of the Apostolic Prefecture of Quetta on 7th December 2001. The official ceremony was held in Quetta when his Excellency Alessandro D’Errico, the Apostolic Nuncio to Pakistan read the papal bull and proclaimed Rev. Fr. Victor Gnanapragasam OMI as First Apostolic Prefect of Quetta Prefecture on 6th of April 2002.
After eight years, the Quetta prefecture had expanded to eight Parishes. On 29th of April 2010 Pope Benedict XVI elevated the Apostolic Prefecture of Quetta to Apostolic Vicariate and very Rev. Fr. Victor Gnanapragasam OMI, was appointed the first Vicar of the Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta. The Episcopal Ordination Ceremony took place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Karachi on 16th of July 2010. Bishop Victor has served more than forty years in Pakistan. He has rendered his services in different capacities such as Apostolic Vicar, Delegation Superior, Delegation Councilor, Formator in Juniorate and Scholasticate, Teacher, Spiritual Director, and Parish Priest. He is the most senior and experienced man in the Delegation of Pakistan. After forty years in Pakistan, now he is well aware about language, culture, situations, and difficulties. Most of the Oblate Priests in Pakistan are his students.
Missionary Endeavors in Loralai
The adventures and missionary works of the Oblates are well appreciated and highly regarded in St. Francis of Assisi Perish, Loralai, in Baluchistan. Although this parish was erected in 2000 as an independent parish, the Oblates had been rendering their services over there since 1982. It has ten substations which are very far from the parish. Sometimes for a number of families a pastor has to travel hundreds of miles. The pastoral team has to stay with the parishioners because they cannot come back to the parish on the same day due to the long distances. The area of the parish is very vast. There are almost 342 Catholic families in the parish. The parish is located on the border with Afghanistan which makes the area unsafe. There are many cases of kidnapping and killing by Tallban. The public transport is very slow and uncomfortable because of the mountainous area. The roads are very narrow and dangerous for the traveler. Facilities for the communication are very limited on the way while travelling. Inspire of all these challenges and difficulties, the Oblates are there to share their time, thoughts, talents, pains, joys and happiness with the Christian faithful.
Missionary activities in Sibi
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate by their charism always prefer to go to the places where the others do not wish to go. Accepting or working in St. Eugene Parish, Sibi is also a prophetic role of the Oblates for the spread of the Kingdom of God. It is the hottest city in Pakistan. During the summer season, its temperature goes up to 53 degrees centigrade. The Oblates took the prophetic step to proclaim the Gospel there too. In 1999, it was erected as St. Eugene Parish Sibi, before that it was an outstation of Holy Rosary Parish, about 165 km away from Quetta. Fr. Yousaf Gill OMI was appointed the first Parish Priest in Sibi. Later Fr. Thyagan Fonsak OMI, Fr. Atta Sultan OMI, Fr. Riaz Dominic OMI and now Fr. Tahir Satar a diocesan priest is serving the faithful. The financial status of Christians in Sibi is very low. Most of the Christian community works in municipal administration and get a very low income. This Parish is run with a subsidy given by the Vicariate.
Prison Ministry in Pakistan
The Oblates have great love for the prisoners too for they are considered the herald of freedom to the captives, sight to the blind and Good News to the poor. A number of Oblates have been visiting time and again, the prisoners in Central Jail Mach, Baluchistan. Their main concern was not only to visit them but to help them in their faith-formation, spiritual growth and medical care. The ministry for the prisoner was done through the fraternal support of Mr. Khaliq Masih who had been serving the prisoners for forty years. This prophetic witness of the love of God for the prisoners could win many souls for Christ. They could bring hope and courage to be reconciled with the Lord and their families once again.
The life of the Oblates itself is the sign of God’s infinite love and mercy for His people. Their prophetic and life-giving charism has won many souls for Christ. In Pakistan, the contribution of the Oblates for the Christians is very prominent and dynamic. Many of the poor and the faithful on the periphery have been evangelized. Through the Oblates, the Good News has reached many of those who had lost their dignity and were caught in the darkness of sin and death. Following the example of St. Eugene de Mazenod, the Oblates give the living example, while serving the poor and marginalized in Pakistan. They proclaim the Word of God through different methods, such as preaching the Word of God, catechizing the children, Sunday schools and conducting the Marian pilgrimages (Melas or Zayart) etc. They also produced audio/video cassettes based on spiritual hymns and films for a better approach to the simple-hearted people.