Lahore (AsiaNews/UCAN) - The first Pakistani Jesuit. He is Fr. Imran John, 33, ordained on March 28 in the cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Lahore. About 40 priests, both diocesan and members of the Society, took part in the ordination of the new priest, presided over by the archbishop of Lahore, Lawrence John Saldanha. The archbishop said in his homily that the Pakistani Church is awaiting the ordination of 20 new priests this year.
Fr. Renato Zeechin, the local superior of the congregation founded by St. Ignatius, has called the new priest a gift of the local Church to the Society of Jesus, who "can be a good example in the community by supporting our charism, mainly in education, catechism and interfaith dialogue."
The Jesuits arrived in Lahore in the 16th century, at the invitation of King Akbar, who brought them from the Portuguese colony of Goa. The sovereign allowed the missionaries to build a church, and issued a declaration recognizing the freedom of every subject to convert to Christianity. After Akbar's reign ended in 1605, the church built in Lahore was destroyed. The mission of the Society was shut down, and the Jesuits left Pakistan. The order returned to the country only in 1961, with the institution of Loyola Hall in Lahore, a formation center and retreat house.
Today the congregation in Pakistan numbers 500 persons, including sisters and students, and is present in the country with two high schools in the city of Lahore serving about one thousand students. There are only three priests, including the newly ordained Fr. John, plus three more candidates in formation.
"Preparing young people is a challenge," Fr. Zeechin says. "Most of them leave after getting a higher education and training abroad," Fr. John himself belonged to a group of 15 candidates who began their formation program in 1995, but he was the only one to make it to ordination. Today, he says, "a strong prayer life and will power helped me during the long formation program."