Pakistan (Aid to the Church in Need) - The bookshop of the St Paul's Sisters lies like an oasis in one of the busiest commercial streets of Karachi, the former Pakistani capital, today a port city of 18 million souls in the south of Pakistan. The sisters, one Italian and four Pakistani religious, offer a broad range of religious literature and other items - Bibles, holy pictures, Mass vestments, rosaries, postcards, children's First Holy Communion books, Christian CDs and DVDs. Outside, the traffic roars past - brightly painted buses without doors rumble by, motorised rickshaws thread their way through the traffic, mopeds, cars, donkey carts - it is all an unimaginable din. The acrid fumes catch at the throat. Bearded men sit on the pavement outside their shops, while others stride past the shop windows. For a Christian establishment in Pakistan, such an exposed position is dangerous. Already in the past there have been attacks. Sister Daniela Baronchelli, who hails from Brescia in Italy, nonetheless thinks it is a good thing that the shop is situated in such a public place. "Here it is open to everyone, and anyone can come in", she tells us, though at the same time she acknowledges, "We are in great danger". Nevertheless, the sisters will not allow themselves to be intimidated, and carry on regardless.
Needless to say, the great majority of the customers in the shop are Christians. Above all they purchase Bibles and catechisms. At the same time, however, the sisters have noticed the ever-worsening poverty and seen how fewer books are being purchased as a result. The situation is growing increasingly critical. Of course the Christians have always been poor, but now there is real destitution, the 80-year-old nun informs us. And she adds, sadly, "Our Christians here are very strong in their faith, but many people are weary. The mothers have no work, the fathers have been made redundant from the factory. And there is so much violence, so many people being senselessly killed. God alone knows what will become of this country, Pakistan", she concludes. The one real source of hope for her is the fact that the Pakistani Christians continue to believe unshakably, despite everything, in the Word and the teaching of God. And they are willing to embrace many sacrifices too. Last year, when a Muslim religious leader called for the Bible to be banned in Pakistan, many of the faithful came in and bought up Bibles in order to give them to their poorer fellow Christians, so that they would still have a copy of their own even if there was a ban.
Sister Daniela and her fellow religious sisters live for the opportunity to bring the Good News of the Gospel to others. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has already been able to help them in the past. Sister Daniela has expressed her gratitude to ACN - but not so much for the financial support as above all for the "communion of love" that unites us. "I love ACN", she tells us. "You are helping Christians to grow in their faith. You are in our hearts."
The sisters of St Paul not only run the bookshop but also go out into the parishes, in the villages, and into the Catholic schools in order to distribute Bibles and religious books there. This media apostolate is extremely important. However, it meets with great hostility from some Muslims, since they perceive the items sold as being "against Islam", above all the pictures and films. Yet these are especially important for the pastoral work, since many people in Pakistan can neither read nor write.
And so the sisters continue, despite all the difficulties, for the Catholic faithful need spiritual nourishment to help them remain faithful to Christ and to the Church and be able to draw consolation, health and strength from God's Word in a strongly Islamic environment where life is already dangerous for them. The sisters have turned to ACN for help so that they can take Bibles and other catechetical material into some of the poorest parishes of the archdiocese of Karachi. ACN has promised them a grant of $6,300.
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Ph: (02) 9679-1929
Source: PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR SOCIAL COMMUNICATIONS