.- The Franciscan friary in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, celebrated its platinum jubilee earlier this month on the feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola, an important observance in their tradition.
“We are grateful to God for being with us for the past many years,” Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, O.F.M., of Lahore, preached during the Aug. 2 Mass of thanksgiving for the 75th anniversary of the friary.
Karachi's Porziuncola friary was established in 1940, and is home to Observant Franciscans serving in the city.
The friary's guardian, Fr. Younis Hussain, O.F.M., welcomed Archbishop Shaw; the local ordinary, Archbishop Joseph Coutts; members of other religious orders; and local lay faithful to the friary's chapel for the Mass celebrating the community's jubilee year.
Archbishop Shaw preached, reflecting on the charity to which the friary has witnessed with its service and faith formation over the years.
He himself joined the Order of Friars Minor in 1989, and reflected on the friary as a “mother house”, saying, “the friary has loved us first, and we have grown in the bosom of this friary … this love should not be contained and remain with us only, but is meant to be shared with all those around us.”
“Keep alive the uniqueness of our Franciscan identity,” he exhorted the friars. “Friars Minor is our identity, and we must retain this, and let it remain that way” in the service of the Church.
Karachi's Porziuncola friary is named for the parish church, originally built in the fourth century, which was rebuilt by St. Francis of Assisi in obedience to Christ's command to “rebuild my church.”
Aug. 2 is observed as the dedication of the Porziuncola, and is the occasion of a plenary indulgence.
Fr. Yusuf Bagh, O.F.M., head of the Custody of St. John the Baptist of Pakistan, said that it was a great honor for the friars to be joined by the bishops for their jubilee.
He recalled the long-standing tradition whereby the Archbishop of Karachi would regularly pay visits to the friary, being present for its special ceremonies and celebrations among the friars.
“I wish this tradition to be continued,” Fr. Bagh said. “We need continued reciprocal support as we pray for the well-being of zealously continuing the mission of evangelization in the region.”
Following the Mass of thanksgiving, a dole of doves were released to extend a message of peace and harmony, and balloons were released as well, symbolizing the joy of the jubilee celebration.
Fr. Hussain recalled the friary's history, noting that Bishop Hector Catry, O.F.M. Cap., traveled from his see of Lahore – more than 750 miles away – to bless the house, on March 31, 1940.
He added that the friary was blessed again by the presence of Bishop Catry's successor, Archbishop Shaw.
The Observant Franciscans came to Karachi from the Netherlands in 1934, and opened their friary six years later.
Bishop Coutts recalled that “when the foundation stone of the friary was laid, Pakistan was not yet independent. The mission to Sindh (Karachi's province) and Balochistan was run from Bombay. Karachi was not yet a diocese, and therefore the bishop came from Lahore to bless the Porziuncola friary.”
He described the friary as the “first theological institute in Pakistan,” adding that it has “contributed since the very beginning to the formation of the local clergy.”
Fr. Louis, O.F.M., who has been in religious life 65 years, recounted much of the friary's history and encouraged his younger brothers to “continue ahead, with hope and determination.”
Asif Nazir, a local catechist and teacher, told CNA Aug. 18 that “the Franciscan missionaries have been a benchmark for their apostolic mission of love, service, peace, and interreligious dialogue with the diverse communities of Pakistan.”
Pakistan's population is about 97 percent Muslim, with Hindus and Christians each constituting nearly two percent of the total population.
Joining the Porziuncola community in their jubilee celebration were the Franciscan Sisters of the Missionaries of Mary; the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King; the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus; the Missionaries of Charity; Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena; and the newly arrived Albertine Franciscans, who came to Karachi from Poland and who have been entrusted with the Baji Mariam mission in Malir, to the east of Karachi.
Karachi is also home to a friary of Capuchin Franciscans, which suffered a fire last month.