The joy of accompanying young people in a parish context in Pakistan

Fr Felisiano Fatu with parishioners in Pakistan. - Photo:Fr Felisiano FatuFr Felisiano Fatu with parishioners in Pakistan. - Photo:Fr Felisiano Fatu.

I arrived in Pakistan in May 2005 after spending a year in Fiji waiting to acquire a visa and start my new assignment after my ordination. It was a long wait, but thankfully I was based in the Columban parish of St Pius X in Raiwaqa, Suva, which allowed me to minister as a newly ordained Columban while awaiting the visa.

My first impression of Pakistan when I arrived in May in Lahore was that it was extremely hot and it was quite hard to adjust to the extreme heat of summer. Thankfully, it was short-lived as I soon moved on to the cool hills of Murree near the Himalayas to begin my Urdu language studies. Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, though only a small percentage of the total population speaks it. The language studies went for nine months in Murree and Lahore.

After completing the language studies, I was assigned to St Thomas the Apostle parish in the district of Badin in Sindh province to begin my ministry. I began by immersing myself in the different programs of the parish and visiting the various outlying villages to give myself a sense of the realities and, more importantly, to discern the kind of pastoral involvement I could offer. I then decided to get involved with both children and youth catechetics and formation, in addition to the usual sacramental commitments in the parish. I can characterise my time in these two pastoral ministries as the most fulfilling - indeed, the pinnacle of my time in the parish. I was content and very happy to accompany young people in various catechetical programs and to run various youth programs. They ranged from catechetics and weekend retreats to youth leadership training in Catholic institutes and programs on Peace, Ecology and Justice organised by the Columbans, including an annual picnic after the Christmas celebrations.

I was energised by the enthusiasm of the young people of the parish, especially their sense of involvement and commitment, which was wonderful to see. In return,

The I afforded them opportunities to gain experience in running Peace, Ecology and Justice programs for the villages after completing their training, as well as dramatizing Sunday Gospel readings, singing in the parish choir, and attending leadership training and participation in diocesan youth programs.

My role was to empower, support, affirm and provide them with the opportunities and resources to better themselves and contribute effectively to the life of the parish. It was a joy for me to witness the talent and creativity of these young people and to help them reach their potential. I was grateful to God and grateful to them, too, for their wonderful contributions and the vivacity they brought to the life of the small Catholic community.

It was also a joy to see the young people flourishing in these programs and growing in confidence in their various roles both in the parish and as teachers in our high school. Six young women even completed a year of midwifery training, graduating with flying colours. Their parents and I offered them support, and we were all proud and happy to celebrate their graduation. What a wonderful experience indeed! I was humbled by them and grateful to be of service to the Catholic community in Badin.

My sense of contentment had to do with being a witness to God’s grace and love present and active in their lives and finding how best to support, affirm and accompany them in their human development and faith formation.

The most challenging part of my missionary work in Pakistan was having to say goodbye to the community when I was asked by the Columbans to train in Sydney and Chicago in preparation for formation ministry. I relished my time and experience in Pakistan with the young people as it was my first appointment after priestly ordination. Pakistan, and specifically the Columban parish in Badin, was my first love as a newly ordained Columban. Even though I left it in 2011, I still treasure fond memories of my endeavours and the people there. The memories of the people and the community captured in photos still stir closeness and gratefulness to God and them for such wonderful experiences.

I am hopeful of making a return to Pakistan if given the chance to minister again to the Catholic community there. In approaching the completion of my studies as an Ignatian spiritual director and a giver of the Spiritual Exercises, I am hopeful of offering those skills to the people I will accompany further in these areas of retreat-giving and spiritual direction.

Columban Fr Felisiano Fatu lives and works in Fiji.

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