CTU Alum Ministering in Pakistan
CTU graduates serve the people of God all over the world. Fr. Liam O’Callaghan, S.S.C., is an Irish priest of the Missionary Society of St. Columban who is serving as a missionary in Pakistan, where he has spent over eleven years. Through email, we were able to interview Fr. Liam about his current ministry assignment and his experiences of CTU.
Q: Where are you currently serving and what is your ministry?
A: I am working in Lahore, Pakistan, the second biggest city in the country with a population of more than eight million. The Lahore Archdiocese has the largest concentration of Christians, with an estimated Catholic population of 370,000. There are twenty-six parishes in the Archdiocese. I am the parish priest of St. Columban’s parish, Greentown, on the southern edge of Lahore. The parish was created on April 29, 2007 when an existing large city parish was divided.
The parish is a big sprawling area covering urban areas as well as villages where Catholics live over a 30km distance from the parish centre. The parish has approximately 25,000 Catholics and there are nine catechists, each responsible for a specific area. Much of my work is in the area of pastoral ministry, administration, and helping to supervise the running of parish schools. In addition, I have a leadership role for the Columban group in Pakistan; I am the Lahore Area Representative, a member of the Coordinating Committee for the overall group, and the Interfaith Dialogue Officer for the Columbans.
Q: You have a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree from CTU. Why did you decide to pursue this degree?
A: In 2008, after having spent more than ten years in Pakistan, both the Columban leadership here and I felt it would be a good time for me to get some professional training and to have some time to reflect on my experiences. I also needed some updating in mission theology. At the time, one of my Columban colleagues from Pakistan, Tomas King, was working on his D.Min. at CTU and strongly recommended it to me. The Columban group asked me to focus on the area of Christian-Muslim dialogue in my studies, feeling that this is a crucial area for our life and work here and that any expertise in this area would be greatly beneficial both to the Columbans and the wider Church and community. I chose to pursue the D.Min. with a cross-cultural concentration.
Q: What was your experience of CTU?
A: Those of us in the D.Min. Program were from many different countries and cultures with an amazing variety of ministerial experiences. We shared and learned from each other in class and informally and also socially; this was a very rich and fruitful part of the overall experience.
My experience of CTU was very positive, and I very much enjoyed my time there – the faculty is top-notch, the courses are stimulating and challenging, the facilities are excellent, and Chicago is beautiful with so much to offer. I have very fond memories of the beautiful lake shore to where I often escaped for a walk or cycle when the study was getting too much for me!
Q: Did you learn what you set out to learn?
A: I feel I more than achieved what I hoped for. It was a really comprehensive course of studies, encouraging and enabling the students to reflect deeply on their experience in the light of the most recent theological trends. My thesis-project (Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Pakistan: Responding Together for the Liberation of the Poor) was on an area of deep interest to me, and I constantly tried to keep it as practical as possible in order that it may be of use to the situation on the ground when I would get back.
Q: How have your continued studies helped you either in your ministry or personally?
A: The first major benefit for me of the D.Min. degree is the amount I learned from my research about the situation here in Pakistan – its history, the history of the Christian community here, detailed history of Muslim-Christian relations down the centuries, leading to insights of possible ways of cooperation. I feel these new insights are invaluable to me and help me to understand the context here much better. Accurate information gives one self-confidence, of which I have gained much. I am able to engage with both Christians and Muslims much better than before because of those new insights. Reflecting on my own and other’s experiences in the light of the latest thinking in mission theology has helped me frame my own response in some new ways as I attempt to respond to the present reality here in Pakistan.