09/13/2016, 14.48
PAKISTAN
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Lahore: for 20 years, a Catholic driver takes pilgrims to the national Marian shrine for free (Video)

by Kamran Chaudhry

Arif Sadiq began carrying passengers as a vow to the Virgin Mary. At that time, he could not have children; now he has five. This year he drove 60 Christians from a settlement near Lahore. During the trip, passengers sang for the Virgin. At the shrine, they prayed, gave offerings, and attended the final Mass.

Mariamabad (AsiaNews) – A Catholic driver has carried pilgrims from Lahore to the national Marian shrine of Mariamabad, 200 km away, for free.

Arif Sadiq, 48, told AsiaNews that it all started with a vow to Our Lady. "I promised Mary that I would take as many faithful as possible in the hope of being blessed with the gift of a child,” he said.

Sadiq asked for the grace after four years of marriage. Until then, he and his wife were unable to have children, but after that vow his life was blessed with five children.

The Marian shrine of Mariamabad (City of Mary in Urdu] is visited every year by pilgrims on the birthday of the Mother of Jesus. This year celebrations were held from 9 to 11 September and ended with a Mass officiated by Mgr Sebastian Shah, archbishop of Lahore.

Sadiq drove as many people from Lahore’s St Paul’s Parish as the back his pickup truck could take. This year, he carried 60 persons from Ahata Malik Basu settlement: men, women and especially youth, who would otherwise have to cover the distance on foot or other means of transportation.

"I'm happy to carry people who pray in all weather conditions, rain or shine,” he said. “We pray before and after passengers get on board."

He noted that a similar trip, for a six-wheeled lorry, would cost 6,000 rupees [US$ 60], including fuel and tolls, but "this is my contribution to help the mission of the Church".

Normally during the year, Lahore traffic regulations ban entry after 11 pm to vehicles carrying goods and more than three people. But during the days of the pilgrimage, these restrictions are "relaxed" to allow more freedom to the pilgrims.

The trip began 10 September, after children helped lay mattresses, pillows and sheets in the lorry. "The excitement in the air was palpable," Sadiq said. Mary’s image was posted behind the driver's cab and the faithful spent the long hours of travel, singing songs and hymns to the Virgin.

The trip lasted eight hours, although under normal traffic conditions it takes two and a half. "The roads were blocked for the increased inflow of the weekend and the coincidence with the feast of Eid-al-Adha*,” said Boota Masih who took the trip with his family.

“A few children developed throat infections from inhaling dust and smog. Still we love to travel together. Everyone knows each other, cracking jokes, and there was no need to for purdah (veil)".

"Youth warn other lorry drivers from peeking at our families. We can stop where we want, buy fried snacks from the canals on the way,” he added.

When they arrived, with only three hours of sleep, the pilgrims were awakened by the songs from other vehicles. They lit candles at the shrine and prayed to the Virgin (see video).

In the final service, Mgr Shah welcomed the pilgrims from across the country and invited them to teach their children compassion and acceptance.

"Today I announce the movement of mercy,” the prelate said. “We have been chosen to care for others in a country torn by terrorism. A benevolent generation can ensure a mature and self-sufficient Church."

* Eid-al-Adha is feast of sacrifice to God that marks the end of the pilgrimage to Makkah.

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