Ever since 1948, an on-again-off-again conflict has been dragging on in the state of Balochistan between the Pakistani government and rebel groups fighting for autonomy of the province, which lies in the southwest of the country. Baloch rebels are demanding an independent Balochistan, and are supported in this by the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Ordinary people are living in constant fear, and in some areas, every building has a separate rear exit as a means of escape.
The largest province in Pakistan, with an area of around 136,000 square miles, Balochistan is almost three times the size of Pennsylvania and covers almost half of Pakistan‘s entire territory. At the same time, Balochistan is the most sparsely populated province in the country, with just 8 million people. Only 30,000 of these are Catholics, half of whom live in the provincial capital Quetta, while the rest are thinly scattered across the entire region.
In Quetta itself there are numerous checkpoints, and in many areas of the city you can only travel with a special permit, which has to be requested several days in advance. Even the bishop cannot travel everywhere freely and is subject to constant police checks. His cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, is situated in the same area as an army barracks, which means that a special permit is required to enter it. As a result, many of the Catholic faithful cannot even get there for Holy Mass. Even Bishop Victor Gnanapragasam himself requires a special permit in order to gain access to his own cathedral and has to ring up the authorities in advance every time and request permission. Again and again he is stopped and searched by the security forces at the checkpoints.
For the priests, none of whom belong to the Baloch ethnic group, the situation is getting even more difficult. Previously they could travel anywhere, but today the area within which they can move freely is becoming ever smaller. Many places are now completely off-limits due to the fighting between the rebels and the government.
“As soon as the fighting stops, we endeavor to visit our Catholic faithful,” says the bishop. “In doing so, however, we risk being killed by landmines and rocket propelled grenades. It saddens us greatly that we cannot visit the people more frequently.”
Part of the reason the priests cannot regularly visit many places is because of the vast distances. Many Catholic faithful live scattered across the vast area of the province in very small communities. In one town, there are maybe three Catholic families, in another, just one, in another perhaps four. As a result, it is extremely difficult to establish any kind of regular Church life here. Some Christian communities live as much as 500 to 600 miles from Quetta, which means that every journey is very expensive, too.
Consequently, the Mass offerings you give us are a huge help for the bishop and his five priests in Quetta. We were able to send them $11,800 worth of Mass stipends. All these Masses will be celebrated for the intentions of our kind benefactors, while the offerings you have made will help them carry out their priestly ministry in these difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Will you give to offer Mass stipends for these priests struggling to serve the faithful in Pakistan under such difficult and dangerous circumstances?
Aid to the Church in Need commits to invest your funds where they will have the greatest impact for the Church that we serve. Funds donated to Aid to the Church in Need’s projects will be used towards the greatest need in our programs to help keep the Faith alive.