Church of the poor
The Catholic Church in Bangladesh is once again ready to receive the visit of a Pope in the person of His Holiness Pope Francis for his Apostolic journey scheduled from November 30 to December 2, 2017. This is the third visit of a Pope in this soil, the first being on November 26, 1970 at midnight by Paul VI with an hour of stopover at the Dhaka Airport to convey his sympathy, prayers and charitable aid for the victims of the biggest tidal surge and cyclone that took place on 13th November. The second visit took place on 19th November, 1986 by Pope John Paul II with main pastoral theme: “Communion and Brotherhood”. The soil of the land has been blessed by a visit of the Pope who is now a Saint.
Pope Francis this time comes after being jointly invited by Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, the Honourable Prime Minister of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh.
The apostolic journey will be seen in the perspective of a general theme chosen for the occasion: “Harmony and Peace”. The people of Bangladesh as well as the local Church consider this Papal Visit as:
(a) A pilgrimage of the Holy Father Pope Francis to the soul of the people of Bangladesh;
(b) An option for the Poor in Bangladesh who constantly struggle to live the human and spiritual values in the midst of realities of life and within the contexts of: cultural identity and heritage, national unity and inter-religious relations and harmony; vulnerability of the country adversely affected by climate changes; richness and resourcefulness of the poor farmers, garment and migrant workers; youths of the nation, refugees and displaced persons, many successes, achievements and future commitments for integral human development, etc.
(c) An option for the “Church of the Poor and the Church for the Poor”, confirmation of Christian faith and witnesses of the “little flock” living, witnessing and serving as “salt” and “lamp” for the nation as our Lord Jesus wished.
I. Situation of the Catholic Church
1. Brief History
The year 2018 is the five hundred centenary of arrival of the first Christians, who were traders coming from Portugal and settled in Diang, Chittagong in 1518. The Apostolic visit of Pope Francis inaugurates the Jubilee celebration of half a millennium of Christian presence in this part of the Sub-continent. This area of the Church was transferred to that of Cochin Diocese in 1598, the year when first two Jesuit missionary priests, Fr. Francesco Fernandes and Fr. Domingo D’Souza landed in Diang. In the year 1600 two churches were built, one in Chandecan (Iswaripur, Jessore) and the second in Chittagong at Bandel. Fr. Francesco Fernandes S.J is considered the first martyr in Bengal. After being tortured in a cave, he died on November 14, 1602.
The Church in Bangladesh has been under different Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions starting from Diocese of Goa from the beginning, Cochin Diocese (1598), Mylapur Diocese (1606), Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal under Propagation of the Faith (1834), Vicariate of Eastern Bengal (1845).
Presently the Catholic Church in Bangladesh has eight Dioceses. Dhaka Diocese was erected in 1886 and later in 1950 was made a Metropolitan Archdiocese. The erection of other Dioceses followed: Diocese of Chittagong in 1927 which was made a Metropolitan Archdiocese in 2017; Diocese of Dinajpur in 1927, Diocese of Khulna in 1952, Diocese of Mymensingh in 1987, Diocese of Rajshahi in 1990, Diocese of Sylhet in 2011, Diocese of Barisal in 2015.
Theotonius Amal Ganguly, csc was the first local Bishop consecrated in 1960 and made Archbishop in 1967. He has been declared a Servant of God in the cause for Canonization. Presently all the Ordinaries are from the soil of Bangladesh. Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario, csc, the Archbishop of Dhaka as the first Cardinal ever from Bangladesh in 2016. He is also the first Bengali Cardinal.
Here it may be said that William Carey was the first Protestant Missionary who arrived in Bengal in 1793 who heralded a new missionary era in Bengal. With Carey came the Baptist Missionary Society which was followed by many Church Missionary Societies from England, New Zeeland, America, etc. After the War of Independence in 1971, there was an influx of more Protestant missionary societies in Bangladesh.Besides evangelism, these societies also plant churches, and establish and run various educational, healthcare, and welfare institutions and organizations. At present, the number of Protestants in Bangladesh is estimated to be around 200,000 which is about 30% of the total Christian Population.
2. Statistical Information
Bangladesh has a total population of about 162 million. Christians in Bangladesh are only 0.4%, in the midst of a predominantly Muslim majority (88%), along with Hindus of about 9% and Buddhists about 2%, and others followers of traditional religions (about 0.6%). Among the Christians, Catholics are about 70%, and the other 30% belong to Protestant Churches and other Christian denominations. The biggest ethnic group (385,000) is called Bengali Catholics who belong to 98% of the national population. However, Catholics coming from more than 34 tribal ethnic groups count about 49% of the total Catholic population in Bangladesh.
3. Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) which came into being in 1971 immediately after the Independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan. The Conference now consists of two Archdioceses and six dioceses. Since the Independence, in response to its life and mission, the Catholic Bishops, in collegiality with each other, inspired by the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, committed itself in bringing renewal in the local Church with ongoing reflection and action, developing organizational and infra-structural services, setting up pastoral priorities, providing pastoral directives for the mission of the Church in Bangladesh. The Conference meets regularly about three to four times a year, on average for 2 days.
At the level of the Conference there are fourteen Episcopal Commissions and Organizations in order to constantly assist the Church at the Diocesan and national level with reflection, doing action together, providing inspiration and implementing the decisions of the Conference in the fields of: Liturgy, Catechetics, Family Life, Education, Health Care, Justice and Peace, Inter-religious Dialogue and Christian Unity, Social Communications, Youth, Laity, Seminary, Clergy and Religious, Evangelization and Caritas Bangladesh. All eight Dioceses have Diocesan Commissions which are concomitant parts of the National Commissions.
4. Vision and Mission of the Church
Looking at the history we recognize three epochs of inner development in the Catholic Church in Bangladesh: (a) Infant Stage: a situation of Receiving Church, (b) Church Come of Age: a situation of Church becoming itself, (c) Adult Stage: a situation of Giving Church.
In the context of the Adult Stage, from 1985, the Bishops of Bangladesh started their Journey of “synodus”, “Walking Together” by adopting a Pastoral Plan for the entire Church in Bangladesh. In the pastoral plan our vision and priorities are: (a) Healing of Injustices in our option for the poor; (b) Communion with People of other Religions and Ecclesial Communities; (c) Communion among Priests, Religious and Lay faithful within the Church; (d) Inculturation and Evangelization, (e) Formation to spiritual and missionary Discipleship and (f) Care for Creation. The pastoral priorities are focused on: Family, Basic Communities and Spirituality of Communion. These priorities and focuses are taken up every year in our annual pastoral programs at the level of the Dioceses as well as at the level of the Bishops’ Conference.
The Catholic Church in Bangladesh has adopted its mission as follows:
(a) to form in the true discipleship of Christ and Christian faith in and through living a life of prayer, meditation on the Word of God and faithful to Liturgical and Sacramental life;
(b) to form and live family life in the light of the Gospel and form the parishes as communion of communities;
(c) to immerse into selfless services as Priests, Religious and Christ’s Faithful, formed in spirituality of contemplation, communion and solidarity;
(d) to educate and form the children and youth in accordance with the teachings of the Church and education for genuine human and civic life;
(e) to commit to dialogue with the people of other Churches and of faiths, to live in harmony and peace and proclaim the Gospel to all;
(f) to commit and dedicate fully to love and serve the poorest of the poor, the disabled and the needy in order to establish a just and peaceful society envisioning integral human development;
(g) to take care of creation in a spirit of stewardship of creation and of our common home the mother earth, making her a better livable place for the future generation by opting for simple living.
Our pastoral plan is implemented by the Families and the Small Christian Communities at the base; by educational and medical institutions, social and pastoral centers; by lay organizations, associations and movements where laity is very active. Priests, Religious and the Laity work in communion with each other.
5. Clergy and Men and Women of Consecrated Life
Although the Catholic Church is a very small minority in Bangladesh, yet God has blessed her with many vocations to Priesthood and Consecrated life. Statistically the Church has 9 active Archbishops and Bishops who are Bangladeshis. There are 391 Priests out of which 228 Diocesan Priests, 163 Religious Priests (52 foreigners); 114 Religious Brothers (15 foreigners) and 1100 Religious Sisters (76 foreigners). The Diocesan Priests of Bangladesh are associated under Bangladesh Diocesan Priests Fraternity (BDPF), local name for Apostolic Union of Clergy which is responsible for promoting fraternity, on-going pastoral and spiritual formation.
At present a total of 35 Religious Congregations of men and women and Apostolic Societies are working in Bangladesh, some of them have been well known and long-time missionary Congregations. One of the Holy Cross members, Brother Flavian Doria Laplante, csc. (1907-1997) an “Apostle to Fishermen” is also declared as Servant of God, whose cause being in the process of Beatification. St. Theresa of Kolkata, is also considered very closed to Bangladesh, who has travelled widely, visited several times and founded many Convents for the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity in Bangladesh. Bangladesh had been blessed by a presence of this living saint. Besides the above mentioned number of Congregations, the Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, Augustinians, etc. also worked in this area for certain period some of whom have a small presence still. The Religious Congregations are confederated together as Bangladesh Conference of Religious (BCR) which arranges programs for their on-going reflection and formation.
6. Activities of the Church
The Priests, Religious men and women and the lay faithful are actively involved in implementing the vision and mission of the Church through many activities. They are engaged in the following main apostolate:
a) Parish and Pastoral Ministry:
There are about 100 parishes and 50 sub-Parishes in the eight dioceses in Bangladesh. In the parish the ministries that are ordinarily done are: liturgical and prayer life, catecheses, family welfare, faith formation and training for different ministries, justice, peace and reconciliation, dialogue and ecumenism, Christian leadership, work of evangelization, promotion of priestly and religious vocation, animation of Small Christian Communities (SCC), parish planning, governance and administration, socio-economic developments, health care, animation of lay Association, Movements and Organizations, Christian festivals and celebrations, charitable and merciful activities to the those who need special love and care. All these activities are targeted to Christian individuals, children, youth couples, parents, disabled, village and parish communities.
The Church runs many educational institutions, open to children and youth of all religions and cultures. They are geared for general education and learning, but also to inculcate value and moral education. The Catholic Church owns 600 primary and Kindergarten schools, 31 Junior Schools, 49 High Schools out of which 10 are raised as College having grade 11-12 levels, 2 colleges including a teachers training college and 1 University. About 135 boarding houses and hostels are there where boys and girls come to receive education from nearby institutions.
c) Health care:
The 75 clinics, dispensaries and hospitals run by the Catholic Church are mainly for general treatment, accessible mainly to the less advantaged and marginalized peoples. These are considered as the only means of medical treatment in the remote areas.
d) Works of Charity and Socio-economic Development:
Caritas Bangladesh is one of the biggest local NGOs and is doing the work as the ‘social arm’ of the local Church following the Social Teachings of the Church. Caritas Bangladesh is very well known and admired for its selfless, committed and dedicated services among the poor irrespective of culture and religions. There are also lay sodalities who do charitable and works of mercy among the poor.
e) Cooperative and Credit Unions for Sustainable Development:
This is one of the biggest contributions of the Catholic Church to the nation initiated originally by foreign missionaries and now totally governed and managed by lay people who have made the Christian community achieve economic solvency. These Cooperative and Credit Unions are present in almost all parishes in all the Dioceses. The lay participation in the development in the Christian community in economic sphere, social and political leadership is praiseworthy.
f) People Needing Special Love and Care:
The local Church has loving concern for the people needing special care. She has, therefore, several orphanages, rehabilitation centers for drug addicts, abandoned children, HIV/AIDS, homeless and displaced children and people, and elderly people. The Catholic Church has special programs for the disabled in all the Dioceses inspired by the love and care envisioned by Jean Vanier (founder of L’Arch, and Faith and Light Movement).
g) Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism:
The local Church takes its pride in initiating inter-religious dialogue in Bangladesh. Dialogue with people of other religions at the level of daily life situation, in collaboration and cooperation in actions, ongoing faith reflection and sharing and encounters in spiritual programs are quite normal in every parish.
h) Formation of the Laity and Advancement of Women:
The Church concentrates more and more to faith formation of children, youth and the laity; various programs and seminars for advancement of women, vocational training for the youth and unemployed, pastoral care to families and spiritual programs for lay formation are regular pastoral activities.
7.Some Strengths of the Catholic Church
In order to conclude this section on activities of the Church in Bangladesh, I would like to highlight some strengths and opportunities for the life and mission of the Church in Bangladesh.
The following strengths are visible in the Church in its ecclesial journey:
(1) The Catholic Church in Bangladesh is a “Church of the Poor and Church for the Poor”. The people experience themselves as “Anawim Yahaweh” , the poor, little ones and “little flock” who are loved and cared by God the Father, revealing his divine plan to care for the poor.
(2) The Catholic Church in Bangladesh is an “inculturated” Church. The people of different cultural groups within the Church strive to live the Gospel in their own life situation and thus evangelization takes place.
(3) The Catholics are mostly practicing and they are very much devoted to God as expressed through their faith, prayers, popular devotions and spiritual exercises.
(4) In the Catholic Church in Bangladesh there is planning in pastoral activities for work of evangelization. The representatives of the Dioceses together with their Shepherds come together once in every decade or so for overall reflection, planning and evaluation at the national level for the local Church.
(5) The Hierarchy of the Church has strong sense of collegiality among the Bishops themselves, between the Bishops and Priests and among the priests. Fraternal bond is regularly celebrated through common activities, reflection and planning actions.
(6) The Catholic Church has an impact on the society especially through education, health care, charitable works, human development activities, inter-religious dialogue and Christian ecumenism, and prayers for the greater communities in Bangladesh. The role of the Church in Bangladesh is like “salt” and “lamp” of the earth in the pattern of Jesus’ command.
(7) Being small, the Catholic Church, in doing its ministries, takes the people of other religions as active co-partners, collaborators and colleagues who also share the same universal vision and committed to develop among people human, cultural and moral values. On average about 60-70% of our fellow-workers in our educational, social, health care, charitable and developmental institutions and services, belong to the people of other religions. This is an excellent way of evangelization.
(8) Building communion and community at all levels: with people of different faiths and Christian denominations, among priests, religious men and women, in families, in small Christian communities and parish communities, etc. is the focus of our pastoral engagements and soul of our spirituality.
(9) The Catholic Church can be proud of the lay men and women who are very active in the mission of the Church in their own specific spheres of life and in the Church activities.
(10) The Catholic Church in Bangladesh is also blessed by vocations to priesthood and religious life. Most of the families are aware of their responsibility to nurture and form their children for priestly and religious vocations.
8. Some Challenges and Opportunities
The Catholic Church also experiences some limitations and weaknesses which are taken as challenges and opening to newopportunities:
(1) Basic faith formation and deepening of it, is an absolute need for all, especially for those who have recently embraced Christian faith.
(2) Formation in proper understanding and concept of the Church is very important for priests, religious and the laity for their life as well as for their mission of building communion.
(3) Evangelization of individual life, family, local village community and parish community, use of media with the Gospel values are the continuous mission of the Church.
(4) Formation of Christian lay leaders in the spirit of the Gospel values is the urgent need for the lay faithful.
(5) On-going efforts are needed to orientate our pastoral activities with focus on family, basic community and spirituality of communion.
(6) More emphasis and engagements on being Church of the Poor and for the Poor. A preferential option for the poor by the Small Christian and Parish Communities and the Diocese is a new opportunities for the Church as well demands of the time.
(7) In pastoral approach everyone, particularly the priests, should be imbued with values of love, mercy and compassion, understanding and reconciliation, and discernment and accompaniment of the people.
(8) More participation of lay men and women in the decision making, governance and administration of the Church at different levels.
(9) Care of creation, our common home should enter into the normal practices of being Christians as individuals and as community.
(10) More and more our Institutions should place utmost importance to human, ethical and spiritual values as a way of living, acting and witnessing.
II. RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER RELIGIONS
1. Cultural Heritage and Religious Identity
The greater part of the present Bangladesh came under the Indo-Aryan civilization sometimes in the 7th century BC. With the rise of Buddhism many missionaries settled in the land to spread the religion and established many historical habitat such as at Mahasthangarh in present Bogura district. After Gupta Dynasty, the Pala dynasty were the first independent Buddhist dynasty of Bengal. The Buddhist dynasty lasted for four centuries (750–1120) and ushered in a period of stability and prosperity in Bengal.
During the Sen Dynasty (11th -12th century) Bengali Culture developed into a distinct culture within the Hindu Civilization.
Islam made its first appearance in Bengal region during the 7th century through Arab Muslim traders and Sufi missionaries, and the subsequent Muslim conquest of Bengal in the 12th century led to the establishment of Islam across the region. Under the Muslim rulers Bengal entered a new era as cities were developed; palaces, forts, mosques, mausoleums and gardens sprang up; roads and bridges were constructed; and new trade routes brought prosperity and a new cultural life.
Bengali Hindu believes the fundamental oneness of humankind in spirit. The Hindu belief and the Sufi tradition of Islam have influenced and interacted with each other in Bengal. Both were popular mystical movements emphasizing the personal relationship of religious leader and disciple instead of the stereotypes of the brahmin or the ulema. Both use the language of earthly love to express communion with the divine. In both traditions, the Bengali language is the vehicle of a large corpus of mystical literature of great beauty and emotional impact.
The Bengal Renaissance came as a social reform movement during the 19th and early 20th centuries in Bengal during the period of British rule. The Bengal Renaissance can be said to have started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941). Bengal in the 19th century had a unique blend of religious and social reformers, scholars, literary giants, journalists, patriotic orators and scientists, all merging to form the image of a renaissance, and marked the transition from the 'medieval' to the 'modern'.
Bangladesh has a rich, diverse culture. Its deeply rooted heritage is thoroughly reflected in its architecture, dance, literature, music, painting and clothing. The four primary religions of Bangladesh (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity) have a great influence on its culture and history.
There is also in Bangladesh a tribal population consisting of about one million people (0.60% of Population), belonging to 34 tribal groups. The seven largest tribes in Bangladesh are the Chakmas and Marmas who are mainly Buddhists, the Tripuras are either Hindus or animists living in Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Garos in region of Mymensingh and the Santals, Oraons and Khasis in North Bengal. They differ in their social organizations, marriage customs, birth and death rites, food, and other social customs from the rest of the people of the country. They are called adivashis, portraying original spirit and values. They now live more intermingled with the Bengali community, speak Bangla and have legal citizenship.
Christianity arrived in what is now Bangladesh during the beginning or the sixteenth century through Portuguese traders and then missionaries. Among the Bengali Christians, Roman Catholicism is predominant, while the remaining others are Protestants belonging to many denominations. As mentioned earlier about 49% of the Catholics are non-Bengali, belonging to tribal communities who are called adivashis.
When we characterize Bengali people on religious affiliations we have mainly two groups: Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims. Besides other factors the main reason for creating two nations of India and Pakistan in 1947 was religion: Pakistan for Muslims and India for Hindus mainly. For the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, other reasons than religion were the main factors. Creation of Bangladesh brought confirmation of Bengali cultural identity with four fundamental pillars of the nation: nationalism, secularism (non-communalism in faith), democracy and socialism.
The Constitution of Bangladesh has enshrined freedom of thought, conscience, speech (Article 39 § 1& 2 and a & b) and freedom of Religions. The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. (Const. Art. 28). Regarding the subject of law, public order and morality, the Constitution affirms that: (a) every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion; (b) every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. (Art. 41)
2. Dialogue with other Religions:
The relation with other religions has to be seen in the perspective of the above cultural and religious background. The long Bengali cultural identity is the foundation of religious harmony, relationships and dialogue. The Christians of Bangladesh are part and parcel of that identity and traditions. The Church’s relationships, harmony and peace with other religions mainly with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, find their manifestations in following ways, which we can call ways of Dialogue:
(a) Dialogue of life:
This is a relationship of the Christians living with the people of other faiths based on everyday life: living together with the neighborhood families, visiting, sharing the joyful and sorrowful events of life and families; extending assistance in needs, friendship built around academic, professional and social life. This living and sharing removes a lot of prejudices and promotes human relations and values.
(b) Dialogue of Celebrations and Festivals
The relationship with the people of other faiths finds visible manifestations in family and social celebrations and religious festivals. The common celebrations and festivals either of Christians or that of other religions are open to and participated by all. This is seen at different levels: family, society, institution level. Even the head of the state and the head of the government invite people belonging to a particular faith for common celebrations yearly on certain religious occasions.
(c) Dialogue of Action
The Catholic Church being a small minority but involved in working for the people of all religions, takes other competent people as colleagues, co-workers, collaborators both in decision making and in activities in the field of education, health care, human development work, social and charitable works and even in Inter-religious programs. In this dialogue of action real evangelization takes place through the shared vision, values and virtues which are very human and Christian.
(d) Dialogue of Reflection and Discourse
The Catholic Church organizes as well as participates in the Inter-religious dialogue meetings, seminars and other programs. These gatherings take place in order to discuss certain issues or to celebrate certain occasions where formal talks are presented in the light of one’s faith as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Christian. Moreover in the education syllabus for the school students, general information about other religions are given. Through media, the Church is also involved in continuous conversation with the men and women of the society and present Christian views and values.
(e) Spiritual Dialogue
The Catholic Church takes initiative to organize and also participate in common prayer and fast for certain occasions. Common call for prayers for peace, solidarity and harmony is also launched at times. Most of the inter-religious assemblies are held with readings from the Holy Books of different religions.
(f) Dialogue with the “poor”
The Catholic Church experiences that common programs or projects in favour of the poor who need special love and care can be one of the best means of inter-religious dialogue. Works of mercy done by different organizations and associations experience such relationship and harmony among the followers of different religions. Here is an opportunity the Catholic Church should, reflectively and planned way, move further to strengthen the inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism among the Christians.
3. Challenges to Inter-religious Dialogue
Although respect for other religions, existence of cultural identity and affinity, spiritual communion are promoted and celebrated, yet inter-religious harmony and relationships are at times threatened by some terrorists, religious fanatics and fundamentalists and militant and extremist groups and by their insurgent activities. These violent activities against the people of minority religions are really bringing a new situation in the existing harmonious culture. Along with these counter cultural and religious harmony, there is a trend of majority affirming their dominance over the minority guided by selfish motives. This attitude is manifested in religion, in social power structures and in relation with ethnic groups. In social encounter with the followers of the majority religion, the other minority religions feel threatened in their religious freedom, denied of their social, political and economic rights and justice, uproot the ethnic minorities from their homes and lands. In these situations the Christian community being minority and embracing many minority ethnic groups in its fold, is discouraged in their efforts of inter-religious relationship and services to the majority community. For inter-religious dialogue the people of the majority religion need to take initiatives to safeguard the traditional religious harmony and cultural identity, and promote positively respect for all religions and preferentially opt for the minority, poor and the weak in the society.
III. RELATIONSHIP WITH THE GOVERNMENT
1. Experiences of Positive Relationship
(a) It is already said that the Christian community in Bangladesh is a very small minority in the midst of 162 million people in the country. However the positive impact of the Church is far more than its number. The Christian Community is considered as peace loving people with high sense of moral and spiritual values, very visible in their life witness in the society. The people of Bangladesh and its Government have this positive attitude towards the Christians.
(b) The people as well as the Government of Bangladesh recognize in public very sincerely, the contributions and sacrifices that the Christian community has made especially during the time of Liberation in 1971 and in rebuilding the country afterwards. The Church’s role in the fields of education, health, social development, charitable works, socio-economic growth of the grass root people are widely acknowledged. The Christian community runs some of the best educational institutions in the country which have produced very competent, qualified and well-valued citizens, many of whom now give leadership in the country and in the government offices.
(c) Every year, during the time of Christmas, the President of the country and the Prime Minister of the Government arrange Christmas Reception for the Christian Community.
(d) In making some policies and law for the country which may affect the Christian Community, the Government consults some representatives of the Church and seek their opinions on the matters.
(e) The Catholic Church together with other Christian Communities approach the Government authorities many times with their grievances and the Government pay due attention to them. Some of the problems presented have been: separation between the state and the Church, exemption as Church from law for bringing foreign donation for church activities, providing missionary visa to the Church workers coming from abroad, exception on some rules and regulations on education for the church institutions, violence and injustices against minority Christians and ethnic groups, facilitating permission for starting Theotonius Amal Ganguly Teachers Training College, other Colleges and Notre Dame University, appointing Priests and Religious as Heads of the Christian educational institutions, some cases of positive interventions from the higher authorities in order to get justice and fare treatment.
(f) During any possible threats to Christian Community that may come from the militant, fundamentalist and terrorist groups, the Government has provided security for people, place and property.
(g) Very friendly and spiritual relationship with the Holy See and the Government of Bangladesh continues uninterrupted. The last visit of Pope John Paul II in 1986 and the coming visit of Pope Francis are two milestones of cordial, human and spiritual relationship. Voices of the Pope on international issues are heard with special importance and convictions and his fatherly concern has been expressed for example, during the incidents of injustices to garment workers, victims of different natural and man-made calamity, refugees from Myanmar, vulnerable situation of Bangladesh because of the climate changes, etc. The recent appointment of a Cardinal from Bangladesh has been considered as an honour and recognition of the nation by the Holy Father.
(h) Government leadership recognizes a special spiritual role of the Church Religious leaders especially in praying for them.
2. Opportunities for Further Growth in Relationship
Once again, it has to be said, that Christians are such a small community, Government does not know how to deal with us while making laws, policies and guidelines. Some time the Government officials, who are transferred so often, do not know the customs and the traditions the Church institutions have been enjoying for so long. For better relationship and working of the Church the following points need to be considered:
(a) Although Constitution of Bangladesh recognizes the equality of all citizens and guarantees their rights, yet in some specific cases, the needs of minorities either religious or ethnic, are to be addressed by the Government in a preferential way for the common good of the society.
(b) Representative Authorities of the minorities either religious or ethnic, should have easy access to the pertinent government offices to present their views and grievances.
(c) Within the purview of rights to associations, the rights of the Christian community and to run its institutions with specific rules and regulations, subject to the laws of the country of course, must be recognized.
(d) Government should take special steps to guarantee the rights of the tribal community as regards their right to land, household, geo-ethnic environment.
(e) Government should meticulously implement the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitutions to profess and propagate faith. Any breach of that law should be punished with fairness and positively promote and protect the religious minority groups including the Christians.
As this write up on the Situation of the Catholic Church in Bangladesh is concluded, once again we recall God’s love and his plan for us. We also experience his love manifested through the Holy Father Pope Francis who has given priority to visit us, to be with us as well as to speak to us what God wants from us. His kind visit shall also be an occasion for us to discover how we shall journey in future.
“In his mysterious plan God has raised up in this land a visible Church, which is to live the life of Jesus and proclaim God’s Kingdom to others. For this gift of the life and mission of Jesus we are grateful to our heavenly Father and to all those who have been his apostles in this world... And we pray that God will draw all people to his son Jesus and that he will make this Church grow according to his plan in order to establish his Kingdom”. (PP. 1985)
Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, csc. Archbishop of Dhaka
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 21, 2019
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