8 Quotes from Bangladesh

Between January 18 and January 26, 2024, Fr. Tom Eckert, C.S.C., and I (Assistant Director Michael Jezewak) spent time with Holy Cross communities and ministries in Bangladesh. In a fast-paced week of site visits, we stopped at ministries in Dhaka city (Holy Cross College Dhaka, Notre Dame University Dhaka, St. Joseph School of Industrial Trades, St. Joseph’s International School, Servant of God Theotonius Ganguly’s museum and grave), Hashnabad (Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, Ganguly’s childhood home, and Bandura High School and College), Sreemongal (parish; Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Shrine in the tea garden village of Horinchora; and Holy Cross School & College, Sreemongal), Rajshahi (Holy Cross School & College, Rajshahi, the accompanying hostel, and the Juniorate for young men discerning vocations in Holy Cross), Chattogram (formerly Chittagong; St. Placid’s School & College), and Diang (Miriam Ashram, Miriam Ashram High School, and Servant of God Flavian Laplante’s grave). At each ministry, Holy Cross priests and brothers joyfully showed us around, introducing us with typical Holy Cross hospitality to their students, parishioners, and lay colleagues.

One way to summarize the trip is to look at 8 quotes that stood out to me.

1. “Jishu pronam” – “Greetings in Jesus”

Perhaps more than any country in existence, Bangladesh’s origin and present-day unity is tied to its language, Bangla. Their war for independence was fought in large part over the attempts by West Pakistan (present-day Pakista, located 1370 miles away from present-day Bangladesh) to impose Urdu as the national language of East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Thus, it is only fitting that the Catholic Church in Bangladesh express their faith in Bangla. When we arrived at various parishes, we were greeted by people, hands prayerfully pressed together, bowing as they said, “Jishu pronam,” or “Greetings in Jesus.”

2. “A vocation begins not with a choice but with an invitation.” – Holy Cross Superior General Br. Paul Bednarczyk, C.S.C.

On January 22, Br. Paul spoke to the men in formation at the groundbreaking of the new Juniorate in Rajshahi. Among the many pieces of wisdom he shared with them, this quote stood out. It is true of the Holy Cross men in formation as well as lay people like myself: God invites us into our vocations.

3. “I am grateful to have this dream project.” – Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi

The St. Joseph Province of Brothers has worked to establish Holy Cross School and College, Rajshahi, in recent years, and the Holy Cross Mission Center was grateful to be invited to participate in the groundbreaking of their new school building. The school is the first Catholic high-school-level educational institution in the Diocese of Rajshahi, which is why Bishop Rozario spoke so highly of it.

4. “If there is love and forgiveness, this earth would be more beautiful than heaven.” – Servant of God Theotonius Amol Ganguly (C.S.C.)

Holy Cross missionary heroes, we discovered, come from the most humble of beginnings. That is certainly true of Servant of God Theotonius Amol Ganguly, the only Bangladeshi currently on the path to canonization. He was born in Hashnabad, where his childhood home was less than 100 yards from his parish and school. The house is being cared for by the St. Joseph Society of Hashnabad, a collection of approximately 30 parish families who knew the Ganguly family.

Ganguly isn’t the only Holy Cross priest to come from Hashnabad parish. He is just one of eight! Fr. Tom Eckert and I were grateful to meet four of those priests during our day there, where we were invited into the childhood homes of three living Holy Cross priests. Their families welcomed us with a level of hospitality rarely seen in the U.S.—a smorgasbord of traditional sweets, tea, lively conversation, and laughter.

At one home, Fr. Tom said a blessing over a bedridden family member. On her door was a Ganguly image and the above quote written in Bangla. It was clear that his memory lives on not as an idealized superhero off in the distance, but as a pious neighbor who is now among the Cloud of Witnesses.

5. “Kahw, kahw!”

Bangladeshis embrace hospitality to the fullest. At every stop, we were invited in to “Kahw, kahw!” (“Eat, eat!”). No TV was on in the background, no one’s face was hunched over in their phone. Over and over, we were simply invited to table for snacks (“tiffin”) or meals by the Holy Cross religious and lay people that we visited.

6. “What we are trying to do is recapture the missionary zeal and missionary spirit of our founder, Fr. Moreau.” – Holy Cross Superior General Br. Paul Bednarczyk, C.S.C.

Blessed Basil Moreau’s vision of an international Congregation could not have been realized without his zeal and, let’s be honest, risk-taking. In the years shortly after the Congregation was founded in 1837, he oversaw ministries in his native France, and he initiated missionary endeavors to Algiers, Poland, the United States, Canada, and Bangladesh, among other locations. In selecting locations for new missions, Moreau intended to meet the needs of the Church as articulated by the Holy Father. In fact, it was Moreau’s willingness to take up the perilous mission to Bangladesh in 1853 that led the Vatican to officially recognize the Congregation.

Inspired by Moreau and the Congregation’s early history, Br. Paul Bednarcyzk, C.S.C., approached the Vatican a few years ago about initiating a new mission. “Where are the greatest needs of the Church?” was his guiding question. And the Vatican responded: they invited the Congregation to initiate a new mission to Papua New Guinea. After consultation with Holy Cross’s various provincials and leaders, Br. Paul accepted this new mission, and plans are underway to send Holy Cross religious to Papua New Guinea in the next few years.

7. “Our Indian sisters”

Interacting across cultures and languages can have its challenges, but it can also bring unexpected moments of levity. For instance, several priests were leading us around Hashnabad parish and sharing details about their ministries and the people they serve. Several times they spoke about “our Indian sisters.” Fr. Tom was puzzled. Why would priests in Bangladesh be working so closely with Holy Cross’s Indian sisters?

It turns out, “RMDM Sisters” when pronounced by Bangladeshi priests sounded to Fr. Tom an awful lot like “our Indian sisters.”

8. “When I think of the guests coming here, it is a blessing.” – Br. Subal Rozario, C.S.C., Provincial Superior of the St. Joseph Province of Brothers

It is customary in Bangladesh to formally welcome guests and allow them to share a few words with the audience. The first time I was invited to speak caught me off guard, but I came to expect it over our 9 days in Bangladesh. What did not become routine in my mind were the warm words of welcome shared by so many, from Fr. George Rozario, C.S.C., Provincial Superior of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province of Priests; to Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, C.S.C., the first Bangladeshi cardinal in history; to Br. Subal Rozario, C.S.C. They were generous hosts, and I can confidently say that Fr. Tom and I returned to the U.S. with renewed commitment to helping them proclaim the Gospel throughout Bangladesh.

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Published: March 7, 2024

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