As part of the Easter celebration, more than 300 catechumens were baptized in Bangladesh. A far from negligible figure, testifying to the growing vigor of the Church in this part of Asia, in a country where Catholicism, present for five centuries, remains an ultra-minority.
Fr. Arturo Speziale, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), is one of the leaders of the Nobai Bottola parish in a village located in the diocese of Rajshahi, west of Bangladesh.
The day after Easter, the 80-year-old priest told Asianews that 46 catechumens were able to receive baptism on Easter Sunday.
The missionaries there are supported by seven catechists from native tribes, who were able to reach remote villages and preach the religion of Jesus Christ in local languages.
After their passage, the process is turned over to the sisters and priests: “currently, our catechists are taking care of a hundred new families, many of whom may be baptized sometime during next year,” explains Fr. Speziale.
His colleague, Fr. Michael Corraya, serves as parish priest in Nobai Bottola: “I was very happy to see adults receive baptism from me,” he confides.
“These people freely chose Christianity. In the past, they worshipped nature and trees, now they understand the importance of Christianity, and eagerly received baptism,” adds the missionary, who specifies that this year, the neophytes come from three different ethnic groups: Santal, Orao, and Paharia.
In the parish of Bhutahara alone - still in the diocese of Rajshahi - one hundred and fourteen adults received the first sacrament of the Christian life, bringing to more than three hundred the number of newly baptized in the Diocese of Rajshahi.
For the record, of the 160 million inhabitants of Bangladesh - a predominantly Muslim country where Sharia law is strictly enforced - less than one percent are Catholic.
Some neophytes shared with Asianews the reasons which led them to welcome Jesus Christ as Lord. Thus, Subash Hembrom, who was baptized in Borshapara explains: “In the past, I loved nature, the sun, and the trees. Our thakur - Hindu priest – acted on my behalf; now instead I can address Jesus directly and can an answer in prayer.”
Our man adds that previously he did not know the prayers of his old religion, but the catechists have taught him and his family “the Our Father, the Ten Commandments, and other Christian prayers that we greatly appreciate.”
Anita Akka, another neophyte baptized on Easter night, explains: “I have seen that a Christian’s life is simple, that they love others. They teach us about love and forgiveness. I have learned that only Jesus Christ can give us salvation. So I received baptism.”