CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 December 2017

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First Christian state funeral in Pakistan

KARACHI (SE): To the background boom of a 19-gun salute, members of the Pakistan army, navy and air force formed an guard of honour for the body of Sister Ruth Pfau, who died on August 10, as it was carried into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi for a state funeral.
 
The flag of the Vatican City flew at half-mast high above the cathedral, alongside the Pakistani national flag. The requiem Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Joseph Coutts.
 
Known as the Mother Teresa of Pakistan, Sister Pfau was a member of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary and founder of the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi, which has opened clinics in all provinces of the country during the 57 years that the doctor from Germany lived and worked in Pakistan.
 
She arrived in Pakistan as a young missionary and doctor in 1960. The prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, said in his obituary, “The entire nation is indebted to Ruth Pfau for her selflessness and unmatched service in the eradication of leprosy.”
 
A statement issued by the Press Information Department on November 8 says a federal cabinet meeting headed by Abbasi has approved a proposal to produce 50,000 commemorative 50 rupee coins ($3.72) in her honour.
 
At a plenary meeting of the bishops of Pakistan held in Karachi on November 9 and 10, they said that although there is delight at the honour paid by the government to Sister Pfau for her service to the people, this must inspire priests, religious and lay people to a renewed commitment to service of neighbour, especially the poor and marginalised.
 
Her funeral was attended by the president, Mamnoon Hussain; chief of army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa; and the vice admiral of the air force, Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, each of whom laid a wreath at her coffin.
 
The chief minister of the Sindh, Sayed Murad Ali Shah, announced that a state hospital in Karachi is to be renamed in her honour.
 
Sister Pfau was baptised in 1951 into an Evangelical Protestant Church and received into the Catholic Church two years later. Originally assigned by her French congregation to southern India, a hold up with a visa left her stuck in Karachi and she never left.
 
Highly respected among the majority Muslim people of the country, a colleague said that she never talked about religion, yet her faith, service and love showed actual representations of the spirit to animate interreligious relationships.
 
She was decorated several times by the Pakistani government, with the highest honour being the Hilal-i-Pakistani Award. In 2006, she was honoured as the Woman of the Year for the city of Karachi.
 
She is believed to be the first woman and the first non-Muslim ever to be afforded a state funeral.

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