A Time to Speak – Loretto in Pakistan

Sister Maria Daniel,R, and Sister Samina Iqbal

Sister Maria Daniel,R, and Sister Samina Iqbal

Sisters of Loretto Maria Daniel and Samina Iqbal helped establish the Sisters of Loretto’s first ministry in Pakistan in 2009 after years of preparation and study. They made final vows as Sisters of Loretto on Aug. 8.

Our families have been Christian for many generations. While people know Pakistan as a Muslim country, there is an ancient Christian presence.

Thomas the Apostle brought the Gospel to Pakistan and developed the first Christian Communities.

We came from a strong spiritual tradition. Like our mothers before us, we sing the psalms from memory and they carry us through both sad and happy times. We also inherit their tradition of saying the rosary. And now we hold Loretto traditions as well — standing with Mary at the Foot of the Cross.

We returned to Pakistan after making temporary profession as Sisters of Loretto.

The Sparkill Dominicans welcomed us in Bahawalpur for several months until Sister Nasreen Daniel could join us. We made the move to Faisalabad on the invitation of Bishop Joe Coutts.

In Faisalabad our ministry has been both challenging and rewarding. We were asked to take over the operation of St. Albert School, a parish school for girls from pre-kindergarten to 10th grade and boys from kindergarten to eighth grade.

The school is in a poor area of the city called Chalk 7. Most of our students are the children of garbage pickers. Families live on less than $5 per month.

In the four years we have been there, we have made several significant improvements at the school. With the help of Pakistani doctors from Louisville, a water purifier was donated and installed for the school.

The families in the school neighborhood also can get water from the school’s system. Because there is almost no infrastructure to process sewage, clean water is a major health concern in the area.

This is compounded by the practice of the nearby textile industries that indiscriminately dump toxic waste into the rivers and channels.

The Pakistani doctors have also provided scholarship money to allow students to come to our school.

Students from Loretto’s Nerinx Hall in St. Louis collected enough money to allow us to add four classrooms to the school. Loretto Academy in El Paso sent money for new blackboards and ceiling fans. The schools also enabled us to install windows in the classrooms at St. Albert.

Our formation director sold tiny paper chairs in the U.S. so we could buy tables and chairs and get the small children off of the floor.

We applied for and received a grant to install solar panels at the school. Now we have lights and can run fans during the “load share periods” each day when we have no electricity.

We have been able to improve the quality of teaching by providing regular in-services for the teachers and by giving them individual support in the classroom to improve their teaching skills.

Both students and teachers are making progress learning English. We have been able to help some teachers continue their education.

We have become known as the “solar sisters.” We have spent time at Solar Energy International in Carbondale, Colo., taking classes to become proficient in installing and maintaining basic solar systems in Pakistan.

In addition to installing systems at the Loretto home and at the school to operate fans (the temperature gets up to 120 degrees), refrigerators, and lights, we have done installations for other religious communities. Dreams for the future include the possibility of a solar school to train boys from poor families.

Working with women and children has always been a passion for Loretto Sisters. In Pakistan, the sisters have worked with women to develop basic sewing skills. Some women have now been certified to teach sewing classes. Others have been able to work from their homes.

The sisters are also called to work with women who have been victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence or imprisoned.

For both of us, life in Pakistan is ever changing. The biggest challenge is to find ways of responding to the challenges that each day brings. No two days are the same.

We live in a community of three and pray for the day that other Pakistani women may join us as Sisters of Loretto.

For us, the journey to perpetual profession has been long. It has been a challenge for us and for the community. The world situation and the war and violence in our area of the world has made communication difficult.

It has become more and more difficult for sisters from the U.S. to come and work with us, or even visit. We are often reminded of our sisters who left Kentucky for Santa Fe in 1852 and also our sisters who went to China.

We are often asked what drew us to Loretto. Both of us had a history of doing the kind of work we now do as Sisters of Loretto in an NGO called S.O.I.L. (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods).

We found in Loretto what we knew about ourselves — a desire to stand with the poor and suffering, to improve conditions for others, to work for justice and act for peace. And like Loretto’s founding sisters, we knew we wanted to do that work together, with other strong women as friends and companions.

We also knew that we wanted to expand the boundaries of learning for ourselves and other women in Pakistan. We knew that it would be important for us to be part of a community that embraced global concerns.

And we knew ourselves to be rooted in our Christian faith. From the beginning it has been like God gently nudging us on the journey.

We have learned to find Jesus in the faces of earthquake victims, the survivors of bombings, flood survivors, hungry children and abused women. We have come to love that face of Jesus.

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