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Jesuits in Lahore

Brian O’Leary looked below par when he arrived back from Pakistan. One false dietary step had cost him a few days of misery. But he was able to give a sense of the Jesuit presence in Pakistan. Here is his latest report.

“My work with the Presentation Sisters in Rawalpindi came to an end and I travelled south-east to the teeming city of Lahore, not far from the border with India.  Here I was the guest of the small Jesuit community who constitute the only Jesuit presence in Pakistan. The first Jesuit mission here was from Germany and these men came specifically to engage in inter-faith dialogue with the Muslim majority. They left a fine Islamic library. After the Germans withdrew the Australian Province took over and more attention was given to educational and pastoral work. More recently the mission has become the responsibility of the Sri Lankan Province. The resident community of five is made up of two Australians, two Sri Lankans and one Indonesian. They were most hospitable. (A Pakistani Jesuit priest is studying in Rome and a scholastic in the Philippines).

The Lahore Jesuits are responsible for three schools (including, perhaps surprisingly, a small Montessori school), and a pastoral/retreat centre (Loyola Hall). They are also involved in formation courses for a variety of religious Congregations together with a candidature programme for prospective Jesuits.  These candidates may go on to do a six month pre-novitiate programme, followed by their novitiate proper – both in Sri Lanka.

For some years the Jesuits in Lahore ran a university hostel and frequently sought help from other Provinces in running it. Other Jesuits from the Irish Province gave some time to this work, including Patrick Lavery, Pat Ryan, and Bill McGoldrick. The hostel no longer exists.

I had come to give four lectures on different aspects of Ignatian Spirituality. These took place on successive evenings from 16.00-18.00. The topics were ‘The Mysticism of Ignatius Loyola’, ‘Everyday Mysticism and Contemporary Culture’, and ‘Foundational Values in the Spiritual Exercises’ (2 lectures). An invitation was sent to all the religious in Lahore Diocese and the audience also included the candidates (Jesuit) and teachers from the Jesuit schools. The attendance was a very satisfying 60 or so each of the four evenings.

On the day of my return to Rawalpindi a bomb exploded in a Shia Mosque about three miles from the Presentation Convent. Eight worshippers were killed and over fifteen injured. It was a reminder of how volatile the security situation is (not just the government v Taliban conflict but that between Sunni and Shia). Nevertheless, on the next day I risked a visit to the (Sunni) Faisal Mosque in Islamabad (political capital of Pakistan and a twin-city of Rawalpindi). This is one of the largest mosques in the world, stunningly beautiful, and built (as its name indicates) with Saudi Arabian money. The visit was well worth the risk in spite of the Lough Derg-like shoeless walk across the Mosque’s vast enclosure. A fitting inter-faith ending to my stay in Pakistan!”