Recently, the Catholics of Bangladesh have had reason to rejoice on two separate occasions. First of all in November 2016, when their Archbishop Patrick D‘Rosario of Dhaka was made a cardinal - the first ever in his country. It was a great moment for many people in Bangladesh, and not only for the Catholics. Then in 2017 there was a still more amazing piece of news, when Pope Francis announced that he would be visiting this country in Southeast Asia from 30 November to 2nd December.
Catholics only make up a tiny minority of 0.2% of the total population of Bangladesh, among an overwhelming Muslim majority of 89%. And yet the Church is very active and the faith of the Catholics is very strong.
There are close on 80,000 Catholics living in the diocese of Mymensingh, a city around 120 km to the north of the capital Dhaka. Like everywhere else in Bangladesh, the Catholic faithful belong overwhelmingly to the ethnic minorities - a minority in a double sense, in fact - both as Christians and as an ethnic group.
The Catholic faith arrived in the region only around 125 years ago, and most of the people who were baptised formerly adhered to traditional tribal religions. The good News of Christ has now deeply penetrated their lives, however, and they live their faith with great intensity. For them the Church has now become their true home.
The people have a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady, the Mother of God. The first bishop of the diocese, which was founded in 1987, helped to encourage this devotion by establishing an annual pilgrimage to Baromari Mission, in the hills to the north, which proved immensely popular right from the start.
Today the shrine has a large statue of Our Lady of Fatima, a Way of the Cross, a house for the two priests who work there and lodgings for the pilgrims. By now the shrine has become so popular that up to 25,000 people sometimes gather there. There is also a pilgrimage especially for the disabled, for whom the opportunity to make such a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima is an immense blessing. And it attracts not only Catholics, but also Muslims and Hindus.
There is one problem, however, in that the shrine does not have a proper church, but simply an area where the pilgrims gather for Holy Mass and other prayers in the open air, with no more than a makeshift shelter to protect them from the heavy rain or burning sun. And so Bishop Paul Ponen Kuni of Mymensing has turned to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for help to fulfil his own dearest wish and that of his faithful, to finally have a proper church in Baromari. A grant of $68,000 is pending approval for this cause.
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929