Lahore: 'charity travels' for a Lent of prayer and sharing
by Kamran Chaudhry
Each year, the archdiocese offers its members a number of day-trips to some of the country's places of suffering (and hope): homes for the mentally disabled, orphanages, centres for troubled children, as well as Mariamabad, one of the most beloved Marian shrine in the whole of South Asia. At the Dar ul-Karishma Centre, the Sisters of Charity welcome people with psychiatric problems.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - In order to make Lent a special time, especially for those who suffer, the Archdiocese of Lahore organised again this year 'charity trips,' a hands-on, one-day spiritual pilgrimage for less fortunate Pakistani Christians.

The first trip took place yesterday. After Sunday Mass at Lahore's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, about 80 parishioners climbed on a bus and headed for the Dar ul-Karishma hospice, a centre run by the Catholic Church that houses local mentally ill patients.

Currently, it is home to about 100 guests - between the ages of 14 and 70 - who are cared for by the Sisters of Charity of St. Jeanne Antide Thouret.

The four nuns who live at the hospice, along with a staff of 19 people, treat the medical and social needs of the disabled, filling their days with choir practice, physiotherapy sessions and sports activities. Most of the guests come from Pakistan's Christian ghettoes.

Typically, the pilgrimage, which costs about 400 rupees (US$ 4) per person, draws a large number of participants. So much so that after yesterday's Mass, catechist Augustine Gill encouraged those present to "confirm your seats; otherwise we will not be responsible for any inconvenience."

Despite the pouring rain, the faithful gathered with baskets of food for the day. Nazia Bibi, 60, is a 'charity travels' veteran (13 times). Even her recent knee injury did not stop her from joining this year's trip.

"I used to come with my children," she said. "Now my granddaughters accompany me", she added, a big smile on her face. "The household work never ends and everybody must give time for this noble cause."

During the visit, younger participants served plates of Biryani, a rice and vegetable dish, in the dining room whilst a few women handed out biscuits and chocolates among the diners.

Khuram Shehzad, who arrived in the facility about seven months ago, said he was happy to meet the visitors. "You look like rock stars; I love your songs", he greeted the visitors in half-correct English.

Shehzad said his family enrolled him at the hospice simple because he was addicted to smoking. Now he plans to celebrate this Easter and the rest of religious festivals at the hospice. Here "The Sisters love me. At home, there is no respect".

Upcoming tours include an "exclusive" of the Archdiocese of Lahore: a one-day stop at the 'Home of Love,' a facility for disabled children, and another in Mariamabad, home to the largest and most beloved Marian shrine in the country and South Asia.