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Mission in the Catholic Church is full of rainbow colors; Fr. Bernard Bhatti ofm; an exclusive interview of Pakistani Missionary

Rev. Fr. Bhatti, a young Pakistani priest working as a missionary at Mary Gate of Heaven, Negril, in Jamaica recently appointed as youth director by Most Rev. Neil Tiedemann, cp; apostolic administrator of Diocese of Montego Bay.

Q. As first Pakistani missionary priest how do you describe the missionary work?

A. Mission in the Catholic Church is full of rainbow colors. It has many shades and folds. As we unfold them, we experience something new in it, something very unique in our mission fields. It is really wonderful to see or to read about the mission of the early church, how after the commandment of Jesus to “go and preach the Gospel to the whole world”, they were all ready to go out and preach the Gospel, and a great number of people were ready to follow them, as if they were waiting for them.

It is also very interesting to see, as if they had no problem among themselves, as it is written in the in the Acts of the Apostles that “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Act 4:32). But soon we realized that they were also very human and among themselves they started fighting, and the problem was discussed at the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem.

Q. How is your experience in Jamaica?

A. When I was asked to go for mission, I said yes to it, without realizing that I would be dealing with different socio-economic conditions, culture, language, race, weather conditions, and many others things. And then I asked myself where the gospel in all this was, and when was I to preach it, where to start and where to end it. And in a way it has become more learning than giving, and the whole concept of mission of the early church seems to be very ideological, and unrealistic. It is as if you are a new born baby or back to the school in a nursery class, where everyone else is teaching, or instructing you, “don’t do this or that, we don’t do this here, no, no you have to learn this or that. This doesn’t work here or that does work here. or like children you keep on asking what is that. You are put in an inquiring mode. And then you say to yourself, My God! What the hell works here, and ultimately you say, OK, if it is God’s will who is Bernard to say no to it.

Q. How do you maintain you call for missionary work in entirely different culture?

A. I feel that Mission is a continuous fight within oneself, culture, people, place, and language you encounter with, at all levels. St Paul says that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2Timthoy 4:7). Somehow it is like the newly wedded bride, who is asked, “Listen, O daughter, considers and give ear: Forget your people and your father’s house” (Psalm 45:10). Because one comes from a different back ground, and wrestles to get rid of it, and has to adopt everything of this new situation. I personally feel that I am caught up among two cultures; when I am at home I am dealing with an American culture, and when I am out I am dealing with the local Jamaican culture. One is very individualistic and independent, and other one is totally dependent, and the third is my own culture where I come from.

Sometimes I also feel that mission is like, as if you are doing a test, or sitting in an examination room, with a question paper in your hand without knowing or having any clue to the answers. Everything becomes so different, and incomprehensible as if everything has changed with a blink of an eye and you have entered into a new heaven and new earth, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Revelation21:1).

I grew up in Lahore, Punjab, and because of my SFO parents I entered the Franciscan initial formation at the age of sixteen, and at the age of 27 I was ordained a priest. After my ordination I was appointed in the initial formation house to teach, where I served for three years, and then I served as a parish priest in the archdiocese of Lahore, for three years, meanwhile, I was appointed the youth director of the archdiocese of Lahore. And security in charge at the national shrine and for six years I also served on the council of the province and custody. Before coming here I was serving in the initial formation house, as director of the house. And now I am here in Jamaica on mission.

Q. How is your experience in Jamaica or how do you feel as part of Jamaican mission?

Jamaican Mission: It is good to be a part of the Jamaican mission, and to be living with American friars. Though they are different in many ways than the Dutch friars, this is a new experience of an international community. I have learnt a lot and still am learning and understanding both the cultures. I am serving in two mission churches, where I celebrate Sunday Masses, do house visiting, and on Thursdays I go for Bible sharing. In lent on Fridays I go for the 14 stations. Life in Jamaica is very slow as compare to Pakistan where I was busy day and night and here not really. The concept of community life is totally different here. In Pakistan it is more collaborative. In every community friars depend on each other a lot. There is a lot of sharing about work, prayer life and spiritual growth of every one, and fights to keep you on track, which sometimes poses big challenges.

Here everyone is responsible for himself, his spiritual growth, and no fights. You are not questioned nor challenged about anything. You do something or not, others will not say anything to you, meaning to say life is very individualistic. Sometimes I understand it, at other times I don’t, and I remain silent.

Q. What makes different than other priest for appointment as youth director?

A. For youth is a special call. I feel understanding the youth accompaniment in their needs availability helping them to know their innate Goals, visions, skills and talents that is what makes youth to come and listen to you. If have to be open for the youth, meaning to say keep your parish house doors open for the youth. So that they feel welcome they must be given responsibilities in the parish during the mass and other activities of the parish.

Rev. Father Bernard Bhatti OFM- Pakistan was born in Lahore, 25, August, 1974. He belongs to the Religious Order of the Franciscan Friars Minor.

He was ordained priest on 1st December, 2011, at Sacred Heart Cathedral by the archbishop of Lahore archdiocese. Rev. Father Bernard Bhatti OFM has been working in the archdiocese of Lahore for last ten years as formator of Dar-ul-Naim from the year 2001 to 2005, as parish priest of Jamke Cheema parish and security in charge of National Marian Shrine, Mariamabad from the year 2005 to 2007, as coordinator of Catholic Youth Ministry Lahore from the Year 2005 to 2011 as a Rector of Dar-ul-Naim, Franciscan Formation House, Lahore from the year 2007 till 2011. Since 10th May 2011, working as a missionary at Mary Gate of Heaven, Negril, in Jamaica.