ASIA/PAKISTAN- A convent school destroyed by the Taliban reopens, "a sign of resurrection"

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - For the Sisters of the Presentation it is a special event, a congregation of Irish origin with three communities in Pakistan: women religious in recent days celebrated the reopening of a girls' school in the Swat Valley, in the province of Khyber (ex Province of the Northwest Frontier), on the border with Afghanistan. The event "is cause for great joy and hope for the Church in Pakistan", said in an interview with Fides Sister Riffat Sadiq, principal of a high school run by the sisters in Punjab, "and is a sign of resurrection". The school in Swat was destroyed by the bombing of the Taliban in 2008. The Taliban, who then militarily controlled part of the province, imposing a rigid observance of the sharia, took aim especially girls' schools, destroying many and forcing many public and private institutions to close. The school of the Sisters of the Presentation was the victim of such a strategy and a radical ideology that allows no education and women emancipation. After some years, and after a massive operation in the regular army of Pakistan to restore the state of law in the Swat valley, the area was freed from Taliban forces and local populations have gradually resumed their normal life. At the same time also the public and private educational activities have begun to flourish again. Sister Riffat Sadiq tells Fides: "As a congregation we consulted each other and we decided to go back to being present, with our commitment to education, in an area populated by Muslims and tribals. We have therefore restored the college and proceeded to reopening it, to continue our mission. In the school there are already three sisters and over 80 girls enrolled, who will be followed up from elementary school through high school. We are very happy to have been able to bring a Christian witness of development and education in a context that is so difficult." The 80 girls are all from poor families, Muslim tribals, and the education provided by Catholic nuns, supported by local teachers, is much appreciated. The Sisters of the Presentation have been present in the Indian subcontinent for over 100 years and, at the beginning, they were called by the British to educate the children of British soldiers. After the partition between India and Pakistan (1947) they remained in both countries. In Pakistan they are present in three provinces (Sindh, Punjab, Khyber), where about 35 women religious, today almost all Pakistani, undertake schools and colleges. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 11/4/2012)