Teresa was a nun for over two decades before leaving her religious order to pursue a calling to help women and children in her native Pakistan.
Teresa (her name has been changed for security reasons) did her undergraduate and graduate studies in Pakistan and answered the call to the religious life. In the mid-1980s, she was sent to Rome in order to pursue advanced studies in theology.
While serving as a nun for over two decades, she struggled to answer a call she felt to better serve the very needy and maltreated. Finally, Teresa left her order so that she might dedicate her life to giving opportunity to the poor women and children in Pakistan, deciding they were the ones who most needed her.
Her work consists mainly of starting and supporting vocational centers for women in Pakistan. Most, if not all of these Christian women are illiterate and abused. Almost all face the prospect of hard manual labor in very dangerous or abusive workplaces.
The harshest workplaces where Christian women are often employed are the brick factories. In these plants, women are tasked with mixing clay and other raw materials and then molding bricks before transporting the heavy material to ovens where the bricks are baked.
There are no automated conveyor belts or forklifts in these sweatshops. Instead, the labor is done by the hands and feet and backs of poor Christian women who are not able to get education or to learn a trade.
While working with the women of one brick factory, Teresa met an 18-year-old woman who had cancer. The young woman had worked for more than nine years in that brick factory and continued working even after she was diagnosed with cancer.
Teresa sought to get pain medication for the dying woman, but help did not arrive before her death.
In Pakistan, students are required to read from and memorize the Qur’an in order to advance in the state-run schools, but Christians are not allowed to own their own copies of Islam’s sacred text. This has led to unprecedented illiteracy among the Christian population.
While the country is 50% literate, only 10% of Christians are able to read. The literacy rate among Christian women is even lower.
After Muslim extremists destroyed two Christian towns in 2013, Teresa visited those places to offer help to the people who remained. She counseled and supported women who had lost family members or who themselves had faced the violent mobs.
While many have heard about the violence against Christians in Pakistan, Teresa faces it every day. She has been scared to do her work at times, but she remains undaunted in her desire to offer hope and a better future for the Christians of Pakistan.
There is an eerie silence in her country today, a silence that comes from fear, Teresa says. In the major cities, being a Christian can be seemingly tolerated, but out in the small towns and villages, Christians are regularly abused and harassed.
Teresa spoke by telephone with Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)