Natore (AsiaNews) - This morning, more than 4,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Rajshahi celebrated 50th anniversary of the Bonpara Christian Co-operative Credit Union, a microcredit institution set up by Fr Luigi Pinos, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who spent more than 40 years in Bangladesh.
So importance is the credit union for the local community that to celebrate this anniversary, hundreds of migrants came back from Dhaka, where they work, to their home village of Bonpara. Here, Mgr Gervas Rozario, bishop of Rajshahi, presided over the gathering held at the local parish church.
Father Luigi (1921-2001) created the Bonpara Christian Co-operative Credit Union in 1964, to support the needs of local Catholics. Starting with just 19 members, the credit union grew exponentially over the years, and now has 2,754 members.
In its first year of operation, its total capital was 58 taka (US$ 0.75). At present, it stands at 172.4 million taka (US$ 2.2 million).
The strength of the credit union set up by Fr Luigi lies in the priest's charismatic character, and on the teachings to his followers about the value of money and on how to save.
Paul Costa owns a grocery store thanks to the Bonpara Christian Co-operative Credit Union. "Without their first loan," he told AsiaNews, "I would have nothing today. I have to thank Fr Luigi for that."
Today, the credit union founded by the PIME missionary is no longer just a microcredit agency, but has also become a place where people can meet and talk about their community.
The Bonpara Christian Co-operative Credit Union is not Bangladesh's first. That title goes to another credit union founded 59 years ago by an American Holy Cross priest, Fr Charles J. Young.
At that time, a serious financial crisis was affecting Dhaka's Christians, who were forced to apply for loans with local moneylenders, who granted them at high interest rates.
Fr Charles and other Holy Cross volunteers set up their own credit union, whose expansion benefitted from the help of some PIME missionaries.