The Lord hears the cry of the poor



Sunday, Oct. 28, the above psalm was prayed throughout the world among Catholic communities as they celebrated Mass together. Our sisters in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, were preparing for the morning Mass, no doubt, having reflected earlier on this psalm. Suddenly, a barrage of gunfire rang out in St. Dominic Church next door. Moments later they entered the church where many lay dying and others severely wounded. In all, 16 people were dead, including a Muslim guard at the gate. One whole family was killed. More than 25 others were wounded by the six gunmen who had come to kill Christians. The Christians were a relatively small group of Pakistani Protestants who had shared the Catholic church for many years. Ironically, on that morning of Oct. 28, the time for worship had been changed, and they were in the church a half hour later. While the larger Catholic congregation was spared, including our sisters, the grief and the horror at the loss of these good, innocent people is overwhelming. They were killed, most certainly, because of their Christian faith. The rest of the day was spent preparing the dead for burial. Our sisters helped cleanse the bodies and wrap them in clean cloths to be returned to the church for the funeral and burial which took place the next morning.

How could this happen? For weeks we’ve been asking ourselves that questions.

The terrorist attacks in our country have hit close to home for each of us … so too this attack in Pakistan has hit home for us, the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill.

We have been in Pakistan since 1958 when we answered the invitation from the Dominican Fathers to join them. Offering a Christian witness has always been primary for us as well as providing education, health care and catechist formation. We have 15 sisters in three different locations. In the early days, we were all American natives; now we are blessed to have 13 Pakistani sisters. We have lived and ministered primarily among the Christian people. They are barely 2 percent of the population and are often discriminated against. We have had a good relationship with the Muslim people we interact with. We respect the fact that Pakistan is an Islamic republic and that we as Americans are guests in their country.

Almost half of the 140 million people in Pakistan are illiterate … a large percentage of those are girls and women. Millions of children do not have access to schools and child labor is a common practice. Two-fifths of the population is without access to safe drinking water, and a larger percentage do not have access to sanitation. One in every 38 women dies from pregnancy complications, and for every 1,000 live births, there are 90 infant deaths. The people are poor. In Southern Asia 500 million people live on less than $1 U.S. a day. This is the reality in most of Pakistan, which only gained its independence from Great Britain some 50 years ago. Political unrest is part of everyday life.

Having visited Pakistan on three different occasions I have experience the growing anti-American sentiment in that part of the world. Our government’s policies have often had a negative impact on poor countries, many of whom are Islamic. That is not a popular thing to say now, as it is misconstrued as an excuse, a reason for such terrorist attacks. To the contrary, nothing could ever justify the hateful actions of the terrorists.

But, we need to ask ourselves, how did we get to this point? How could we not know that the climate of resentment and hatred was so strong, especially in poor countries, that the soil was ripe for terror? Why didn’t we, the religious community, speak up about our experience in these countries and the impact of U.S. policy on these poor countries? I, for one, have some regret.

However, we must believe that there are many people of goodwill, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and many others who want to find an answer, who want to end this insanity and find a peaceful solution. Bishop Andrew Francis of Pakistan offered these remarks at the funeral in Bahawalpur, “We are the followers of a man who loves, who sacrificed his life for a noble cause. We are forgiving those who killed innocent people. But their case will now be heard in the court of God Almighty.” How powerful a Christlike response to those whose very lives are in danger. These days have left us broken-hearted and crushed in spirit, but the psalmist has reminded us, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”

Sparkill Dominican Sister Pat Keating is the coordinator of Catholic Charities for the Coastal Deanery.