Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Catechists are the Backbone of the Catholic Church in Bangladesh - The Life of a Catechist Among the Poor



Catechists are the Backbone of Roman Catholic Church in Bangladesh (Bangladesh is a country that once belonged to India, with a population of approximately 168 Million people, about 89% are Muslims, 10% Hindu and 1 % are Christians)

  The Life of a Catechist in Bangladesh


The Apostle St. Thomas founded Christianity in the Indian sub-continent. A short History of How the Christian Religion Arrived in Bangladesh is found below the story.    

The Life of a Catechist in Bangladesh's Roman Catholic church 

 The country of Bangladesh is a land of a thousand of rivers. There are many nationalities, cultures, languages.  More than  90% peoples belong to the religion of Islam  ( Muslims) then a few of the people are Hindu and Buddhist. There are more than 45 indigenous  communities who live in Bangladesh. So it is not easy to preach the Holy Gospel to the people and inspire them. It’s very difficult  to work with a multi-cultural people. There were missionaries who needed a helping hand to preach the Holy Gospel. The church needed volunteers to spread the Christian faith. As a result,  church volunteers became Catechists.  The Christian population of Bangladesh has grown for 500 years by the help of many dedicated Catechists. (picture below of a catechist and his family)


                                      The major duties of Catechist

1 / Preaching the Holy Gospel door to door.

2/ Teaching the Holy Gospel, religious prayers, songs including during Holy mass .

3/ Proxy (instead of priest) offering, every Sunday Church service, funeral Mass (without communion or Eucharist ) 

4/ Arranging holy Mass and prayer different villages. 

5/ Daily works at different remote parts of countywide. (Stay with villagers at their homes)  

6/ Moderator for parish activities .

7/ Social networking with different communities  .

8/ Advocacy and  communications with  government  and non-government  office or organizations .

9/ Stewardship 

10/ Preparing people who want to receive Jesus Christ by helping them to convert to the Christian religion. 

(Picture below Catholics gather during Good Friday for prayer)



 

  Though it's very difficult, there are still many religious nuns and priests and religious brothers preaching the Holy Gospel to them but catechists are playing a majority roll in motivation and inspiration. Because there is a large population with more than 45 communities. Thus, there are more than 6000 (six thousand) people who are working as a catechists for the Roman Catholic Church in Bangladesh.    There are many catechists who have been working for a long time.  These catechists are working as volunteers not with a paid salary. Although, it's true that most catechists have family members, they sacrifice everything for JESUS CHRIST and the Roman Catholic Church. Every catechist is made for Jesus Christ's love.  99.9 % of catechists live under the poverty line and are not highly educated.  But they have strong faith and morals rooted in the Christian faith. They are a power house  to  preach the Holy Gospel to the people.  More than 6000 catechists are  working as the apostolic wing of catholic churches in Bangladesh. These catechists continuously preach the Gospel and motivate more than 45 indigenous communities, including some Hindus and Buddhists communities. Catechists work door to door.  They live with different communities of people for years. Sometimes for two or more than three years; to follow their languages and cultures and rituals. Living among them and having different kinds of foods to eat is not very easy. After this time, the Catechist becomes a trusted person to the non-believers. The Catechist preaches the holy gospels and Christians religious values and morals to the non-Christian people. It is very difficult to motivate and inspire people about Jesus Christ and the Christian religion because there are different superstitions, social leaders are tortured, political issues and some fundamental extremists threats.   The catechist must tolerate everything and have a type of liquid personality. It's very difficult but a catechist takes all these challenges in their daily apostolic life. As a result there are many non-Christians people receiving JESUS CHRIST and converting to become Christian. We can see in Bangladesh a large number of people who are professed Christians and following Christian values in their daily lifestyle. For the most part, this has been accomplished by direct interactions with a catechist.  A Catechist has to sacrifice so much; beyond what we can ever imagine. We never realize a Catechist's pains.   The Catechist also leaves their family for a long time; their family members especially parents and/or wife and children must sacrifice too. These sacrifices are beyond any monetary recompense.

I salute all catechists from my heart. But, the sad reality is, that at the last moment a catechist rarely gets appreciated by our church leaders. I never blame churches or church leaders but it's true. I humbly request all of church leaders or those in authority to please recognize all catechists and their apostolic works. Because priest, nuns or religious brothers get daily food and others basic necessities provided from churches or bishops fund; but a catechist volunteers their services.  Often,  a Catechist has family, so  it’s time to think about theirs basic needs. In Bangladesh a four or five member family need a minimum of $250-$350  US dollars for essential needs. Monthly spending includes food, clothes, education and medical treatment. But often a catechist gets an honorarium of only $30 US dollars while some might get $70. This an injustice for a catechist; but no catechists ever protests because they love the Holy Gospel and Jesus CHRIST. That's why there are still so many  catechists working for the Bangladesh Catholic Church. I don't mention any catechist by name, because all catechists work the same way in the Bangladesh. We are proud and grateful to all catechists and their families. At the same time let’s pray for those catechists who have died; for their departed souls and their families. 

Written  by  Francis Rony Tirky - Bangladesh Correspondent for Catholic News World

ronytirky1@gmail.com

Bangladesh   

                  History the Christian Religion in Bangladesh

In 1537, Portugal established a settlement of Dianga in the area of Chittagong in Bangladesh, bringing the Catholic Church and missionaries with them. The first churches were set up in 1600 in a settlement which now forms Dianga and the city of Chittagong. Jesuit Father Francesco Fernandez, who came to Dianga in 1598, and who was blinded and tortured and died in captivity on November 14, 1602, is Bengal's first martyr.

In 1845 Chittagong became the seat of the first Apostolic Vicariate of Eastern Bengal, and later the administration was transferred to Dhaka. Noakhali was also the first place to have the Holy Cross missionaries who arrived there in June, 1853.


 Although Christianity originated in India in the first century after the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, in South India, the second line of Christian arrival ---- the Syrian Christians, the third - came to the subcontinent many centuries before the Portuguese. The adventurous Portuguese nation passed through the riverine era in the realm of culture and civilization and during the maritime era, in the hands of the lucrative trade of the Eastern world and especially India, established the first Christian religion in Bangladesh along with the Sultanate of Bengal and the Mughal Empire. Despite the Portuguese conversion process, the history of European imperialism and colonialism in India, the Portuguese were the first to bring European civilization and culture to the Bengal region. In fact, the new currents of life brought to the country by the Portuguese merchants who believed in Christianity became permanent and based on their special contribution to the most remote areas of Bengal, in Bengali language and literature, civilization and culture.

Mughal Emperor Akbar allowed the Portuguese to settle in Bengal and the Jesuit priests arrived in Bengal.

In 156 AD, the Mughal emperor Akbar was pleased with the Portuguese clergy and ordered them to establish a city somewhere in Bengal in order to establish an alliance with the Portuguese. The letter of intent further stated that missionaries in Bengal could preach Christianity, build churches and convents, and freely convert all Indians who were interested in following the "Injil" or the Gospel and the precepts of Christianity. . '' (Manrique, S: Itenerario de las Missiones 1629- 1641 Eng Tr. 1915-Calcutta.). According to the Jesuit sect, the first priestly community to come to Bengal, Fr. Antony Vaz and Father Padro Dias arrived in Bengal in 156 AD. It was the Jesuits who built the first church in Bengal, the "Name of Jesus", in 1599 AD, at Chandeka, Ishwaripur, in the historic Jessore, the capital of King Pratapaditya, 50 miles south of the present-day city of Satkhira. On January 1, 1800, King Pratapaditya inaugurated the first church in Bengal with great pomp. During his visit to Bangladesh, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid obeisance at the Kali Mandir in Ishwaripur. A short distance away is the site of the first church in Bengal. Ever since the arrival of the Portuguese in the Indian subcontinent, the Portuguese Jewish priestly community, interested in kings, emperors and zamindars, has been working unhindered in various states of India, including Bengal, under the umbrella and patronage of Mughal emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The most reliable sources of information and theories about the arrival of the Portuguese in Bangladesh, especially in Dhaka, their movements and activities are Frey Sebastian and Manrique, who visited Bengal in 1840 and wrote a list of four hundred years before the Augustinian churches built in 1841. Dedicated to the holy name of Jesus Christ, the grand opening of the church took place on January 1, 1800. Sandwip was a Christian settlement between Chittagong and South Bengal. After defeating the Arakanese king and leaving Carvalho Island, Firingi and other Christians left Sandwip in groups and took refuge in Bakla, Sreepur and Jessore. Christian settlements also developed in Larikul and Tarikul. As such, the Christian population of Bangladesh has been cherished for 450 years.

Prince of Bhushan ------ The stirring Christian preacher Dom Antonio

 There is no doubt that Christian settlements started in different parts of Bangladesh even before the first church of Bengal was established in present day Satkhira. In some villages on the banks of the river Padma and in the adjoining areas, local Portuguese settlements were established by the Portuguese and their converts. When the Kirtinasha Padma submerged in the Narikul port on the banks of the Padma and the Christian settlements of Tarikul sank in the caves of the Padma, many were displaced and shifted to Meghla, Malekanda, Nagarkanda, Orikul, Narisha, Sutarpara etc. in the present Dohar upazila. When some more villages were submerged in the subsequent erosion of the omnivorous Padma, new settlements were established in some villages around Kalakopa-Bandura, some moved to Shulpur of Sirajdigha police station and some to Nagari villages in Bhawal Pargana region.

After the accession of Arangzeb to the throne in the middle of the seventeenth century, the prestige of the Jesuits in Bengal was greatly diminished due to the massive financial losses of the Portuguese. The existence of the Augustinian empire is also in crisis due to the small number of priests and finances of the Augustine community. Dom Antonio's emergence in Bengal at a time when the Jesuits were leaving Bengal and the plight of the Augustinian community.

Approximately, in 173 AD, the Mughal children were kidnapped by the Mughal bandits and taken to Arakan in the Bhusana kingdom on the banks of the Madhumati river in the greater Faridpur district. After the abduction, the Mogeras, knowing the boy's lineage, sold him to Father Manuel D'Rosario, a Portuguese priest from the Augustine community in Chittagong, Arakan. Due to the identity of the aristocracy, the Roman Catholic custom changed his name to Father Manuel before the boy's name, Dom (Dom means prince in Bengali). (Historical excerpt from Wikipedia)



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