Holy Family Sisters–presence and mission in Pakistan
HOLY FAMILY IN PAKISTAN
The Oblate Community began their ministry in Pakistan in 1971. Working amongst the people, they felt the need to have some Sisters to assist them, especially with a view to reaching out to women. It is not customary in Pakistan (according to its culture) for men to enter into this field. After approaching Rt. Rev. Bishop Cialeo O.P. the Bishop of Faisalabad Diocese, for his advice, the Oblate Fathers finally requested Our General Council for personnel for this task. This dream was realized in February 1975 when seven Sisters; five from Sri-Lanka and two from Europe set foot on Pakistan soil. So, the first foundation of the Holy Family Sisters in Pakistan began in a rural village – Chak 6 in the district of Okara.
The Holy Family Sisters who arrived in Pakistan were
Sr. Stephanie Ranasinghe, Sr. Murine Fernando (Colombo Province), Sr. Tharsilla Bastiampillai and Sr. Benedicta Pathinather (Jaffna Province) from Sri-Lanka. A few days later they were joined by Sr. Brigid Davis, from the Province of South Africa, and Sr. Catherine Counihan from the Province of Britain and Ireland. After two months Sr. Anne Perera (Colombo Province), arrived from Sri-Lanka. These Sisters stayed with the F.M.M Sisters, in Renala Khurd, about 15 miles from Chak 6 because the old Convent in Chak 6 was under repair. So the Sisters had to travel to Chak 6 daily to supervise the work and start their apostolic work, which involved first of all visiting families. On 28th April 1975 the opening of our first Convent took place .It was blessed by Rt. Rev.Bishop Cialeo.
In September 1975 Sr. Teresa Perera, Sr. Mercia Fernando and Sr. Yvonne Fernando (Colombo Province), came to Holy Family Hospital in Karachi to do nursing, In October the same year Sr. Sheila Griffiths Province of Britain and Ireland) and in February 1976 Sr. Mercia Peiris from Colombo Province joined the pioneers.
Since the language – Urdu had to be learned the Sisters went to Murree hills for a break in the summer, and also attended Language School. There some of the Sisters were down with Chicken Pox.
The old Church in Chak 6: and our first school
The first school was opened by the sisters under the tree in the center of the photo. The verandah of the church was also used as classrooms. Years later after the new Church was build; the old Church building was used as a hostel for girls.
Children in the near-by villages were prepared for First Communion; before attending a 3 day summer camp-programme as immediate preparation in Chak 6.
In the beginning the sisters were teaching the young girls the art of sewing at the same time imparting religious education. This was also a good preparation for their future life and those who did well in sewing were attached to an organization who paid for their good work. Classes took place in the open air in the garden of the Convent. Many of these girls are now married or working in other places.
Gojra, a small town situated about 40 miles from Faisalabad and almost 60 miles from Okara city, is in the same Diocese as Chak 6 Okara. This was the second foundation. December 8th was the day chosen for the opening ceremony, a well fitting day, as it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a feast special for the O.M.I.’s.
December 8th 1975: Sr. Stephanie Ranasinghe, Sr. Brigid Davis and Sr. Sheila Girffiths took up their abode in this mission. A temporary dwelling place was furnished in the servants quarters, (3 rooms), a kitchen and two small bathrooms sufficed as a modest abode. The neighbors were the Fathers’ cook, and one or two teachers from St. Albert’s school. Relationships with these neighbors were friendly and cordial. Our way of life surprised them as they could not understand how we could do our own housework and cooking.
In the beginning we worked closely with our Oblate Fathers and Brothers on different projects. This project of animation covered women, young girls, children as we worked on sewing centers, child care centers, education as well as health projects and we paid attention to regular family visits.
In 1976, in answer to the request made by Bishop Bonaventure, the Bishop of Hyderabad; Sisters Victorine Rodrigo and Miriam Daberera from the Province of Colombo took the responsibility of training of midwives as well as the management of the hospital in Hyderabad. Many were the challenges the two Sisters had to face. The following were the energizing words of their commissioning…
“Go with renewed energy to work to build Communion. Let your commitment be a light to them by what you are, say, do”.
They have fulfilled this mission with enthusiasm, courage and determination over the past 34 years and still continue to serve. Here the Sisters concentrated in wholistic formation. Over 400 young girls have qualified as Midwives and are now working in many parts of the country in Government and private hospitals and clinics. They prove to be very responsible and are appreciated very much.
In 1977 we moved to the desert area in the Diocese of Multan. There was a solitary church built by the Dominican Fathers and a few Christian families scattered around. All one could see was sand and sand dunes. A new experience for the three: Sisters Stephanie, Evelyn Hanley and Mercia Peiris. Since there was no priest sisters saw to the needs of the people who became very close to the them. Occasionally a priest used to come to celebrate the Holy Mass. The beginnings over here were very challenging as there were no facilities like gas and electricity.
From 1977 to the present moment we have opened 4 more houses and are now working in all the Dioceses of Pakistan. Our presence in these areas gives us an impetus in building communion.
From 1985 we stared accepting young girls who desired to follow the Holy Family way of life. This was a daunting task as we had to be very sensitive to the culture, language and the background of these young women. The untiring efforts of the Sisters in this field give a great hope for the future as there are 20 energetic Pakistani Sisters. The 16 missionary Sisters are still a great support for the growth of our Delegation. Sr. Nasreen Nazir is a missionary in the Cameroons.