In Pakistan there is “nobody to speak for the poor ones,” says Fr Yacub Barkat, who has ministered to Catholics in the country for over two decades.
Currently, Fr Yacub is administrator of twin parishes, St Gabriel’s in Bexley and St Mary MacKillop’s in Rockdale. He recently celebrated his jubilee of 25 years as a priest.
Before arriving in Australia in 2014, Fr Yacub served in many areas of Pakistan and knows first-hand the day-to-day struggles Christians face, as a tiny persecuted minority in the Muslim-majority country.
Because of the discrimination they face, Christians have a low social-status and are prevented from applying for well-paid jobs. Their subsequent poverty means they are unable to educate their children.
“It is a great struggle to serve in Pakistan because most of our community is poor,” said Fr Yacub, who at one time was ministering to Catholics in 300 villages, as most priests in Pakistan are expected to do.
“Many are persecuted because they are Christian. We don’t get good jobs. In the villages people won’t even drink from the same cup as a Christian.”
“When I was young you couldn’t go into a restaurant to eat and drink anywhere. If they know you are Christian, they will say, ‘Pay for your utensils.’ Because you have made the utensils unclean.”
“For education, some families have gone abroad. But Christians are still mostly poor. In Pakistan if you have money everyone will respect you.”
To address the situation, Fr Yacub assists in educating many poor children in Pakistan through the Barkat Foundation, which was set up in Australia by his brother and named in honour of their late father, who had been a devout Catholic and a catechist.
Every year, the family-run charity cooks and sells food, through St Joseph’s Parish in Newtown, to raise funds. The money is then sent to the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Pakistan, and used to educate children from poor families.
So far, the Barkat Foundation has financed the education of 40 children. Many are orphans.
Through the Foundation, a free ambulance service is also provided in Lahore for those who can’t afford to pay for medical treatment.
In Pakistan, medical treatment, even in emergencies, is only administered if the patient can pay up-front. The poor often go without any treatment, even for life-threatening illnesses.
Fr Yacub was inspired to set up the free ambulance service due to the memory of his own mother who passed away in 2002. After she became unwell and slipped into a coma, the family had to wait two hours for an ambulance to arrive. Fr Yacub is determined to help others in similar situations. The Barkat Foundation’s free ambulance attends about 300 patients each month.
Through his own personal savings, Fr Yacub also supplies poor families in Pakistan with tuk-tuks so they have a means of earning an income. He purchases the rickshaws for about $3,000 each and gives them to the families who repay him once they have earned enough.
“Last year I brought six tuk-tuks and gave them to people. They return the money and with that amount we buy more tuk-tuks. We help each other.”
“God has been very great to me. He provides me with everything. I save and whenever I go to Pakistan, I help the people over there. We have to help those in need.”
Fr Yacub said despite the ongoing persecution, the faith of the Catholics in Pakistan is growing stronger.
“In the last 20 years there has been a lot of persecution with bomb blasts in churches. But this persecution has not weakened the faith of the people. It has made the people very strong in their faith. They were not afraid of the bomb blasts. They are becoming stronger.”
“Religious fundamentalism is growing day by day but we have strong hope that God will bless us. We have strong hope in Jesus Christ that God will look after us and our people.”
To donate to the Barkat Foundation contact St Joseph’s Parish in Newtown on (02) 9557 3197
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