Thursday, October 4, 2012

Energizing Vision and Pioneering Mission: Jesuits in Pakistan 
Victor Edwin SJ 

Jesuits in Pakistan celebrate fifty years of Jesuit Mission in Pakistan! Where do they come from, what they did for the last fifty years for the people of Pakistan, how do they celebrate this golden jubilee and how do they envision their future, are some of the questions that interest the readers. However, while presenting the Jesuit contribution to Pakistan mission, it is also equally important to discover the Pakistan Jesuit mission’s contribution to the field of Catholic Muslim Dialogue. It is amazing to find that the Jesuits who spent some years of their ministry in Pakistan, have turned out to be important contributors to this particular field globally. This note refers to the Jesuits working in Pakistan as Jesuits in Pakistan not Pakistani Jesuits because at the moment except John Imran SJ other Jesuits either came/come from Germany, Australia or Sri Lanka.

 South German Jesuits: the pioneers 

Late bishop Ray Marcellus Rogerius of Lahore invited the South German Province Jesuits to the Pakistan mission. The first Jesuits arrived in Pakistan in 1961. They bought an old house situated in the central part of Lahore for their residence. They opened a research library in the house and named it Loyola Hall. Soon Loyola Hall became a place in which Muslims and Christian intellectuals met and exchanged ideas. How do Muslim scholars view the Loyola Hall Library? Here is a Muslim testimony on the library. Ikhram Chaghatai, one of the Muslim scholars who worked in the Library wrote: “it is a very selective library of rare books mainly in the area of religion and meant for advanced students of religions. It has also a section of Journals in the different European languages, rich particularly in the areas of Christianity and Islam”. Loyola Hall is indeed a pioneering venture in Pakistan. It was an ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking of those Jesuits. A regular and time tested method was opening ‘chapel-school-dispensary’ when missionaries arrived in new places. In Pakistan those pioneering Jesuits did not simply follow this familiar and beaten path. They chose a new way of being missioners that is more challenging than the familiar ones. In this new path the first Jesuits followed a two-way process that directed them to be sensitive to the Muslim thinking and way of life in Pakistan and contribute to the cultural and religious life of Muslims in Pakistan. The first Jesuits in Pakistan thus discerned and envisioned a deeper involvement and engagement with Islam while serving the local Church.

 The Australian Jesuits and the Sri Lankan Jesuits who followed the South German Jesuits in Pakistan mission continue to commit themselves to make interreligious dialogue an integral aspect of their lives. Following the pioneers, the present day Jesuits continue work in this field and also pay special attention to train their collaborators this vision and mission for interreligious dialogue. Various groups come to Loyola Hall to organize workshops and programs related to Scripture, theology, women’s issues and interfaith relations. A group of Junior Sisters regularly use the facilities for their Juniorate program and a small group of candidates for the Society now resides at Loyola Hall as well.

These pioneering efforts make clear that Christian-Muslim dialogue/engagement is an effective channel to deal with the deep seated prejudices among Muslims and Christians. Dialogue is not just sharing of information, though that is desirable as a first step, but it is also an authentic way of living and sharing one’s faith with the partner, and at the same time allowing the faith convictions of the partner in dialogue to challenge and purify one’s own faith. While prejudices clog-up meaningful interaction between Muslims and Christians the lack of critical understanding of dialogue would leave the practitioner of dialogue naïve and ignorant. The Jesuits in Pakistan commit themselves to discover and foster ways of making inter– religious dialogue an integral aspect of our lives and ministries.

While the German Jesuits paved a new path in dialogue, Jesuits from Sri Lanka pioneered to establish schools with an interreligious dimension educating Catholics and Muslims together. It is their conviction that it is only through education that the Christian community can rise up in Pakistan and hence our commitment to this ministry. They strive to integrate the Muslim community with the Christian community. So our schools opted to have Urdu as the medium of instruction having English as a second language (GC 35, D/3, No.14). It is a mission of reconciliation that Jesuits in Pakistan preach, not in words but in action.

 Celebrating pioneering ways: the golden jubilee 

 Fr Herman Roborgh SJ, a friend of this present writer, who was present at the Jubilee, described the celebration in the following words. “The Jubilee celebrations stretched out over a few months and consisted of special programs on Ignatian spirituality at Loyola Hall. The celebrations culminated on the 8th February 2012 at a sung Mass in the cathedral of Lahore where the first Jesuits had resided for some weeks while they were searching for the bungalow into which they eventually moved. The Bishop of Lahore and several diocesan priests attended the Jubilee Mass as well as the children of the two Jesuit schools in Lahore and some long standing friends of Loyola Hall. Fr. Imran John S.J., the first local Pakistani Jesuit priest, who was ordained in 2010, was the main celebrant and sang the Eucharistic prayer in Urdu to the stirring accompaniment of drums and flutes.

 After the Mass, everyone moved from the cathedral to Loyola Hall, a distance of only a few kilometers, where the Jubilee celebrations continued in a big tent set up on the lawn. The school children performed a drama expressing some of the special characteristics they observed in the Jesuits who are active in Lahore. Speeches were made expressing the hope that the Jesuits would continue to serve the people of Pakistan according to the Ignatian charism”.

 Beyond the Golden Jubilee: strengthening mission from within and without 

Fr Jeyaraj, the Sri Lankan Jesuit provincial, who is the major superior for the Pakistan mission, noted that the mission would like to continue to advance the frontiers of Inter-Faith collaboration as our top most priority for the good of the Church and of the world. Planning to intensify the work of Loyola Hall, Fr Herman Roborgh said: “… the number of scholarly visitors to the library has dwindled in the last few years. One decision made during the recent Golden Jubilee celebrations was to organize a scholarly symposium on an aspect of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations for a limited group of local Muslims and Christians each year in order to give new life to the intellectual dimension of the original vision of the pioneer Jesuits”.

 The Provincial, Fr. Jeyaraj, also stressed that the Pakistan Jesuit Mission depends on having more Pakistani Jesuits. He affirmed that while the Sri Lanka Province would continue to hold the responsibility and support the mission in whatever way that is needed, his province’s first priority was to train more Pakistani Jesuits. It is important to have the formation program of the young candidates to the Society in Pakistan itself, he emphasized.

 He continued that, through education, as a next step, we would be able to uplift the economic standard of the poor at least in the next generation. Further, through our schools we will also continue to promote greater understanding and cooperation among the Christian and Muslim communities. Taking into consideration the changing realities of Education in Pakistan, the Jesuits in Pakistan are also already reflecting on whether a time would come when we would need to offer professional courses at the higher level, in different institutions.

 Further he said that the province is aware that while more and more people are becoming aware of their own rights, there is also need to conscientize people to stand up in a constructive manner for their own rights. For this the Jesuits would like to concentrate on the youth and organize them as a viable force as they are the future of the Church and the nation, he indicated.

 In the past years the Jesuits have been assisting the priests and religious of the country, in various ways, especially in their formation and spiritual welfare. There is greater need today for more concerted effort to continue to commit to be at the service of priests and religious in Pakistan. Though Jesuits in Pakistan have been involved in pastoral ministry for some time, this has been discontinued due to lack of personnel. This ministry could be revived and added to the kitty of services to the people of Pakistan.

 Mutually fruitful mission: world to Pakistan and Pakistan to the world 

 The Jesuit missioners from different parts of the world contributed to the Pakistan mission in pioneering ways especially in the field of Christian-Muslim relations and dialogue. The Pakistan Mission has indeed contributed by shaping some of the fine theologians and interlocutors in Christian-Muslim relations among Jesuits who spent some years of their mission life in Pakistan. Among many the following three Jesuits stand out shining.

 First among them is Robert Andreas Bütler SJ who arrived in 1961and lived in Lahore. As a scholar of Islam, he searched for “common ground between Islam and Christianity with a positive acceptance of the unbridgeable differences.” Ikhram Chaghatai, a Muslim scholar who spent a number of years with Bütler wrote: “… a praiseworthy characteristic of Bütler’s approach to Islam and Muslims was one of respect and appreciation as well as a meticulous sensitivity to the religious feelings of adherents of faiths and persuasions other than his own. For him, research and study was not in order to score points and win an argument, but a way to had many who valued his friendship and views”. On returning to his native Switzerland, he continued to promote and foster Christian-Muslim relations working to integrate Muslim immigrants in the social fabric of his country.

 The next important figure is Christian W Troll SJ who is considered by many Jesuits, who work in the field of Christian Muslim relations, as the unofficial dean guiding and coordinating this mission all over the world. He spent a few years during his formation in Pakistan. Without doubt, his years in Pakistan helped shaping the way he approaches Jesuit mission among Muslims. He worked fruitfully in many places: as a professor of Islamic studies at the Institute of Religious Studies Vidyajyoti in New Delhi (1976-1988), as a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Birmingham (1988-1993), and as a professor of Islamic institutions at the Pontifical Oriental Institute (1993-1999). It is important to note that he lectured in some of the Turkish Muslim Theological centers; from 1992 to 2001, he gave annual lectures and seminars at the University of Ankara Ilahiyat Fakültesi. In the fall of 1999 he moved to Berlin and worked as director of the Christian-Islamic Forum of the Catholic Academy in Berlin. In 2001 he was appointed Honorary Professor of Philosophy and Theology, University of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt. He rendered his service to the Vatican from 1993 to 2005 as a member of the Sub-Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims of the Catholic Church, which is part of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID). Since the summer of 1999 he is member of the Commission of the German Bishops' Conference for Inter-religious Dialogue.

 Daniel Madigan SJ is an Australian Jesuit who teaches at Georgetown University’s Department of Theology, Washington from 2008. He spent three years at Loyola Hall. He worked as the Assistant Director and Dean of Students at Loyola Hall and cared for undergraduate and graduate students living in multi-religious environment teaching them English, Urdu, Chemistry and Church History. He was also the librarian of the Loyola Hall library. Then he was the director of Murree Language Program conducting three-month residential intensive language courses in Urdu and Punjabi. He is the Founding Member, Pakistan Association for Inter-Religious Dialogue and worked as a member of Catholic Diocese of Lahore Commission on Muslim-Christian Dialogue. He is currently Director of Graduate Studies at Georgetown Uni. He is also a Senior Fellow of The Al-Waleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown, where he is directing a project on Christian theologies that are responsive to Islam. Fr. Madigan is also Honorary Professorial Fellow of the Australian Catholic University's Asia-Pacific Center for Interreligious Dialogue. Before moving to Georgetown he taught in Rome (2000-7), where he was the founder and director (2002-7) of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University. His main fields of teaching and research are Qur'anic Studies, Interreligious Dialogue and particularly Muslim-Christian relations. He has also taught as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Ankara University, Boston College and Central European University.


 Jesuit mission in Pakistan is significant as it began and grew in pioneering ways. Its contribution to the field of Christian-Muslim relations is something that really needs to be celebrated. In other words, the Pakistan mission has enriched the world mission in the field of dialogue. As the Sri Lankan provincial rightly emphasized, dialogue efforts need to be strengthened further. It has become increasingly difficult for dialogue in Pakistan as Christians find that their space is getting narrower in the face of fundamentalism in that country. It would be of interest to see how the dialogue mission in Pakistan develops in the coming years. In difficult times and with small number of Jesuits, the mission flourishes in the service of faith that does justice with a preferential option for the poor in their educational, spiritual and other pastoral ministries. This distinguishes the Jesuit mission in Pakistan.

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