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Marist Bulletin - Number 95

 

Brother Shanthi Liyanage who works in Pakistan
09.10.2003

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MUSLIM PARENTS SEND THEIR SONS TO OUR SCHOOLS MAINLY BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT WE PROVIDE A TRULY HOLISTIC EDUCATION

Brother Lluís Serra


Brother Liyanage Adolphus Shanthi, 54 years old, was born in Udahentenna, Sri Lanka. He is a Provincial Councilor, Community Leader, Teacher, and Principal of St. Mary’s High School, Peshawar, Pakistan.

Given that Catholics in Pakistan constitute such a tiny percentage of the country’s population, how challenging is it to practice your faith?
It has always been a challenge for Christians in Pakistan to practice their faith. Until recent times, they were discriminated against especially in two areas, i.e. education and employment. Everyone irrespective of their religion had to study Islam if they were to pursue higher education. Religion was a criterion in getting jobs. Some were so desperate they tried to hide their identity when they applied for a job.
With the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban (Islamic Student Militia), the Christians were considered as infidels. They were outcasts in their own country. When the allied forces started the campaign against terrorism, the Christians were labelled spies of the West. Since then churches, schools and places where the Christians gathered have been attacked resulting in the death of many Christians.
The declaration of Shariat Law in the North Western Frontier Province and the Islamisation process has made it very difficult for Christians to practice their faith openly.

Are Islam and Christianity on a collision course, or do you think that dialog is possible?
Most of the Muslims consider the “war on terrorism” as a “war on Islam.” The “Mullahs” (Muslim Clergy) try to make it an issue to achieve their vested interests.
At the same time there are many Muslims as well as Christians working for a dialogue between the two religions. There is tolerance from the part of the Christians. There are good, broad minded Muslims who are very understanding and supportive and they are ready to enter into a dialogue. The biggest draw back is illiteracy among the majority of the people who believe only what they hear from the ‘pulpit’. There need to be compromise on both sides.

Your country is situated very close to strife-torn regions of the world. Are you optimistic about the future?
I feel that our country has a future. What type of future? Well, that depends on the leadership given by the people who govern the country. Pakistan is very rich in many ways and God has blessed it with so many resources. If there is a genuine love for the development of the country and if corruption, (the number one enemy of our country) is done away with, we can be very optimistic of a bright future.

Please tell us what you see as the outstanding qualities of the Pakistani people.
People in Pakistan love their religion. They believe in one God. Proper guidance in practicing their faith would make them good Muslims and good Christians.
Hospitality is one of their outstanding qualities. They do not want a visitor to leave their home without a cup of tea. Sharing food is very common among the people.
In general they are very friendly and warm hearted. Respect for elders and caring for the old are qualities one can see especially among the people in villages.

How did our Marist work begin in Pakistan?
Late Bishop Nicholas Hatinga (Italy) of the diocese of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, on one of his visits to Rome, had met the Marist Brothers. He had extended to them an invitation to come and work in Pakistan. Bro. Paul Ambrose (U.S.A) the Assistant General at the time made use of the opportunity to explore the possibilities of opening a Marist mission in Pakistan. After some discussions, the Brothers in Sri Lanka agreed that it was very appropriate to start a new mission in this holy land.
On September 11, 1966, Bro. Remigious Fernando (Sri Lanka) came as the first Marist missionary to Pakistan. He started work in a place called Abbottabad. After that Brothers from Australia, New Zealand and later on from U.S.A and the majority from Sri Lanka, came to Pakistan to work in schools, hostels and in technical institutes.

Tell us about your work at St. Marys High School in Peshawar.
St. Mary’s High School, Peshawar is an English middle boys’ school. The Marist Brothers have been administering the school for the last 30 years. The Bishop of the Diocese of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, is the proprietor of the school.
In keeping with our vision statement of the school, St. Mary’s exists to provide education for young boys from varying socio-economic, religious and cultural back grounds. It does so within the Pakistan culture, through its current educational endeavours.
We provide educational programmes and other activities which will promote the intellectual, moral, physical and social growth of each student so that he will be able to become a useful member, a responsible citizen and a patriotic Pakistani.
We foster the development of a sense of responsibility to the wider community and a commitment to work for justice and peace in the light of God Almighty’s commandments.
We seek actively to promote the personal growth, the development of an informed conscience and the nurturing of mature true Pakistani Spirit in each student.
We base our education in keeping with the vision of Marcellin Champagnat, and we try to establish relationships with students, founded on love.
Within and beyond Peshawar the school has carved out an excellent reputation not only for academic success but for Sport and numerous other activities, including discipline. Its past students are to be found in all spheres of life, providing leadership based on the values that were fostered at St. Mary’s.
Though the majority of the students are Muslims, the school is a blessing for the Christians who study there. The Brothers and the teachers take care of them in a special manner by giving them concessions in their annual and monthly fees.
The Muslims who study in our school get a better understanding of Christians. Leaders such as Musharraf, the incumbent President of the country and Benazir Bhutto, a former Prime Minster, studied in Missionary schools such as ours. They have been very sympathetic towards the Christians.
The school generates income to help run other Christian institutions in the diocese. Sargodha Catholic School too is given financial help by St. Mary’s.

And what can you tell us about your other Catholic school in the country, in Sargodha?
Sargodha Catholic School is a recent foundation and it has gained respect and popularity in its infancy. It is regarded for its Marist style of education. Majority of the students are from very poor families and about 75% students are Christians. Therefore, financially it is a poor school and has to depend on the donation of over fifty thousand rupees every month to pay the salaries of the staff. But, it is a blessing for the people of the area to have such a beautiful school that imparts quality education. The Brothers and the staff of Sargodha School have a good understanding and the Spirit of Champagnat prevails among the staff, students, workers and our lay Marists. I would say that Sargodha Catholic school is doing a wonderful service and is meeting the needs of the underprivileged students of the locality.
The recent undertaking of a technical school in the diocese of Faisalabad, which is about 85 kilometers from Sargodha, is also in keeping with our charism. It is a technical institute for school dropouts. The institute which is about ten years old was started by Father Clement Sethupathy, a diocesan Priest from Sri Lanka. As he was appointed as the secretary to Catholic Bishops in Pakistan, the Marist Brothers were offered this Institute.
There are about 28 boys residing in the hostel. With ten day scholars there are 38 students learning the trades of Welding, Automobile and Electrical. The boys are mostly from poor families. Many are supported by the priests and nuns.

You must find it challenging that most of your students are Muslim. Why do they choose your schools? How does your Christian way of thinking fit in with their beliefs?
Muslim parents send their sons to our schools mainly because they know that we provide a truly holistic education. Most of the educational institutions are exam oriented. While the government institutions are in a very poor condition, the private schools are established to make money. Parents see our commitment and dedication. Character formation and value education are our priorities. Christian missionaries in the past have left a tradition that is very much rich and pastoral. More than the religion that they see in us as Christians is our humanness. I believe that we try to get closer to our students and our love for them brings them closer to us. The parents know that we do not want to convert their children. Honesty, Mutual Respect, Trust, Tolerance, Compassion and Forgiveness are virtues that every religion accepts. We talk about the Goodness of God the Almighty. We try to witness Christ rather than to preach Him verbally.

What do Pakistanis find appealing about Marcellin Champagnat?
What Pakistanis find appealing in Marcellin are, his strong faith in God, even in times of trouble and difficulties, his love for children and the founding an Institute to educate children. Those who have heard of Marcellin know that he was a person with a strong mind and a gentle heart.

What does the future hold for our Marist presence in Pakistan?
We have to look at the future with faith and hope. We are here to do God’s work. We know that He will not abandon us. This is evident in the way the Congregation has taken interest in our mission. The recent visit of the General Councilors, the support and help given by the Provincial and his council, and the solidarity shown by our Sri Lankan Brothers are signs that are very encouraging. That gives us strength to face obstacles and hardships which may come from other quarters. There is a drive for vocations. We have felt the need for local Brothers. We have two Pakistani Brothers who are very much committed to fostering vocations. The Aspirancy programme which started this year in Peshawar, the launching of a second programme in Faisalabad in September for those who are interested in our way of life, and the new foundation in Faisalabad, tell us that we are on the right track. With the intercession of Mary our Good Mother and Marcellin our Founder, we firmly believe that God will continue to bless our sector in Pakistan.

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