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Pakistan: Veteran Mill Hill Missionary Preparing to Bow Out

The harvest is brought in.

I was ordained a priest 56 years ago in Bolzano. After ordination I was sent on mission to Pakistan. The journey alone took two weeks – in contrast to air travel today: only one day. The arrival in the diocese was a culture shock: first the language, the poverty of the people, the miserable dwellings, the heat, lack of water and the hygienic conditions. My first appointment was to the parish of Jhelum. I worked there for six years. Then I was transferred to Rawalpindi where I ministered for another seven years. From there I moved to a Catholic village in Josephabad, where in turn I worked for six years. After that I was appointed for another eleven years to Peshawar where millions of Afghan refugees had come to settle down.

The location was very precarious! After eleven years in Peshawar I was transferred to Kohat close to the Afghan border for another seven years. My last stop is Sarghoda, where I am now 17 years.

I want to give a very brief report of what happened in these 56 years of missionary involvement. The main job of a priest is probably the celebration of the Eucharist and the proclamation of the good news. Only 3% of the population of Pakistan is  Christian and not ashamed to profess their faith amid an overwhelming majority of Muslims. The state does little to assist minorities.

I noticed right away that education is key to a better future. It was and often is difficult to convince parents, because schooling is not compulsory. Thanks to the many donations and help from home we were able to build many schools and even construct two colleges. There was an equal lack of church buildings for liturgical services. At first we often celebrated in small rooms and at times in miserable shacks. In turn through donations and self-help of the local population we were able to build many churches. These church buildings often accommodate not only liturgical services, but provide space for meetings, lectures and other types of instruction.

The catastrophic living conditions of countless people in the villages moved me to build a sewage canal system, in turn with donations from home. So, we were able to provide many families with a toilet and running water. The families did their share of work and also contributed financially so that they could consider the project their own and ensure its maintenance. Several housing projects could also be completed with local assistance and many donations.

Since the women in the country are very disadvantaged, we established in several villages sewing centers. Thus women and girl seamstresses were enabled to provide for their families. No difference was made between Christians and Muslims in this project. I often felt more of a social worker than a priest. But for a missionary both belong together.

In my main place of work, Sarghoda, we work as a parish team. We are three priests, five sisters and twelve catechists. I already have handed over my tasks as parish priest to the young priests. Consider that outside Sarghoda there are 50 more villages to look after. About 700 baptisms are administered annually, 600 First Communions, 500 Confirmations and 350 weddings.

Now that I am 83 I intend to retire to my Tyrolean home land later this year and will use the rest of my time here in Pakistan to visit my former places of work for a final farewell.

Should my health allow I will be happy to function as an assistant priest in my home country.

Leonhard Steger MHM

Source: St. Josefs Missionsbote

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