Following a local custom, the Holy
Father planted a tree in the sprawling green area around a monument at Savar, near
Twenty years later, that tree is like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
It’s small and stunted, while others planted by dignitaries who visited the memorial around the same time have grown much bigger.
In fact, the tree planted by
President Li Xian-nian of
Holy Cross Father Bakul Rozario, vice principal of Notre Dame College in Dhaka, who was ordained by the Pope the same day the tree was planted, told the Register that pious Catholics have been guilty of plucking away the leaves of the tree as a token of their faith, further slackening the growth of a slow-growing plant.
Whether the Muslim horticulturist deliberately chose a slow growing tree for the Pope or not, the tardy growth bears eloquent testimony to the difficult life of the Church in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation.
This Christmas, the number of
“We have new churches but we are not growing in the way we want to,” Bishop Theotonius Gomes, secretary general of Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh, told the Register in an interview at his office in late October.
Asked how the Church is going ahead with evangelization work, Bishop Gomes replied, “It is very tough. We have to be extremely careful about it in most places.”
A Catholic convert from Islam was murdered two years ago, for example.
However, Bishop Gomes pointed out that the regions where the Church feels most relaxed are in ethnic tribal areas like Mymensingh and Chittagong Hill tracts, where Christians enjoy a greater sense of religious freedom with lesser Muslim population around.
“We need to prepare more people
for the service of the Church. But we have our limitations,” acknowledged
Bishop Gomes, who is also the chairman of Caritas
This Christmas is a holiday in
While schools and Sunday catechism
remain powerful tools for the Church to foster vocations, the Church faces many
hurdles on this front. Sunday marks the beginning of the week in
Christian life in
The shifting of the weekly holiday
“We were very upset when this was
introduced. But now, we have got used to it,” Benedict Alo
D’Rozario, executive director of Caritas
In fact, like most of the 400-odd
schools run by the Church, for the dozens of Caritas staff across
Following the Christian protests, D’Rozario recalled that the government had issued a statement allowing Christians to take a one-hour leave from work on Sundays. But he added that nobody remembers this statement and most working Christians go to church Saturday evening or early Sunday morning.
D’Rozario also has to worry about things like Christmas pageants that we take for granted.
“As a community, we are extremely careful not to offend their [Muslim] sensibilities,” said the Caritas chief whose network undertakes development and awareness programs in thousands of villages — most of them exclusively Muslim.
“I am very careful when I address
the students about God and religion,” said Sister Mary Shanta
Gomes, principal of St. Mary’s School in
Though the parents are “very
friendly and respectful to us,” Sister Gomes pointed out that she would always
try to avoid any word that would be taken as an offense to Muslim sentiments.
Though Christians feel worried whenever anything goes wrong in the Western
world against Islamic interests, the nun pointed out that there has been calm
and quiet reaction to the Danish cartoon row in February and the Sept. 12
remarks of Pope Benedict XVI in
However, fear lingers among
Christians scattered across
Take the case of Uttam Sangma from Mymensingh, who has been working at a yard near the port
“I am here because there is no job
in my village,” said Sangma, who started working at
the yard when he came to
Sangma lives in a rented house of mud and tin sheets in the Muslim neighborhood of Sitalpur. Two dozen Gharo tribal Catholic families live in rented houses there, eking out a hard life.
Recently married, Sangma has to be content with attending Christmas Mass in one of the rented houses whenever the priest visits the village. “We would like to live in a place where there is a church,” he said, “and where we feel more at home.”
Anto Akkara is based in