[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No.155 / June. 15, 2010 ]


Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
Due to political and religious reasons, Christian evangelization in Muslim countries like Pakistan faces great difficulties. I want to introduce here a Japanese Brother, Matsumoto Koshiro, who is working in a children's institution for the disabled in Karachi, Pakistan.
Public welfare services, especially for disabled children, are by no means adequate. The Franciscan Center in the City is one such center in Karachi for disabled children, most of whom come from Muslim families. Brother Matsumoto answered my questions regarding the present situation.
"This year four children, already 15 years old, will leave the Center in accord with present regulations. However, when one realizes that in Pakistan these days there are no jobs available even for young people without disabilities, it is a matter of concern whether young Pakistanis with mental deficiencies will be able to find a job after leaving the Center. I am worried that they might end up remaining at home just as they did before coming to the Center."
At the institution disabled children, even those who live at home with their families, must be able to dress and undress themselves. They receive training to be able to help at home and to communicate with people without much difficulty. Yet it is somewhat sad that, rather than thinking about assuring normal circumstances for their further education, the Center must train them for future environments where they will have no life guarantee.
I feel that it is too soon to build welfare institutions in Pakistan like in Japan, and Brother Matsumoto had to go through many hardships before the Center could run smoothly.
Religiously speaking, Pakistan has a strongly fundamentalist Muslim population of 98% and since it borders Afghanistan, the whole region abounds in skirmishes between the two Muslim factions, the Shiah and the Sunni. Despite their being uninvolved in such factional issues, various Christian institutions have recently been attacked and destroyed.
Brother Matsumoto has been working as a missionary in Pakistan for 17 years. At the time he arrived there he was shocked to see so many disabled children in the streets of Karachi trying to make a living as beggars or else tied up at home like domestic animals. So he decided to start the Center. In those days he often found the guardians of disabled children opposed to the educational orientation given at the Center, such as cleaning up and gathering litter, or other training for life, due to the caste system and various Muslim mentalities. He experienced similar difficulties in getting them to understand the various events and programs held at the Center.
Brother Matsumoto says, "Pakistani Christians live in a Muslim culture. Thus, we must coexist with that culture. At the children's institution, it is most important to celebrate the Muslim feasts and to respect the ordinary daily customs. On the other hand, since we are a Catholic institution we also celebrate Catholic events. The parents are Muslims, but they understand that this is part of our educational program aimed at helping the children overcome their disabilities. I feel that the key to transcending religious issues is our shared involvement with the children's disabilities." In brief, coexistence and respect and sharing in a common concern are the basic lessons to be learned.
When the children leave the Center, Brother Matsumoto feels moments of consoling recompense for his hard work on hearing the parents say things like, "Undergoing training at this Center was a blessing. We are happy now that we did not give up but continued to bring our children here." These are also moments that overcome religious differences and nurture deeper understanding. They give birth to fresh efforts toward true peaceful dialogue.
The Center has now begun its summer vacation and soon a new school term will begin. For Brother Matsumoto this will be a fresh opportunity to welcome new members, re-initiate his dialogue with their families, and transcend differences of religious beliefs and culture.
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