The clergyman, who died in the US on Saturday from COVID-19-related complications, served the Church in Bangladesh for 60 years until 2016 when he returned to the United States because of health problems and death threats from radical Islamists. “By founding schools and health centres, and defending the persecuted Garo community, Fr Eugene became an indispensable reference in our life,” said Fr Hacha. A Muslim wants a road named after him in Modhupur.
Tangail (AsiaNews) – Bangladeshi Christians and Muslims are mourning the death of Fr Eugene Eduard Homrich, a US missionary who died two days ago at the age of 92 at the Holy Cross House in Indiana (US) from COVID-19-related complications.
The clergyman served the Church in Bangladesh for 60 years, until 2016, when he had to return to the United States because of health problems and death threats from radical Islamists.
Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered in Pirgacha parish church, Tangail, for a memorial service that highlighted his exceptional contribution to the Diocese of Mymensingh.
Most of this Diocese is home to ethnic Garos. Much of Fr Eugene’s mission was dedicated to them, including setting up two high schools and 28 primary schools to keep the Garo culture alive.
“Fr Homrich is called the father of the modern Garo community,” said For Surma Chiran, a Garo woman. “If he had not come to Mymensingh, our tribal community would not have been able to save our culture.”
She remembers that “Once he told us that religion and culture are not the same thing. So, he advised us to practice our faith and at the same time maintain the culture we received from our ancestors. I feel very lucky to have met him and learnt from him what it means to be Catholic.”
Fr Simon Hacha, a 66-year-old ethnic Garo priest in Diocese of Mymensingh, stressed that in 60 years of pastoral life, the great missionary transformed the Garos’ socio-economic conditions.
“By founding schools and health centres, and defending the persecuted Garo community, Fr Eugene became an indispensable reference in our life,” said Fr Hacha, who is pastor in Dhakua parish. “When he had to return to the United States, Catholics wept saying goodbye. Today we weep because of the sad news of his death.”
“Fr Eugene’s life and mission were full of success,” Fr Hacha added. “He was a friend of the Garo community and always encouraged its culture. In the liturgy he kept Garo musical instruments, language, and hymns. When the Garos were persecuted, he always fought for them.”
Muslims also expressed their condolences for the missionary's death. “I met Fr Homrich many times,” said Zoynal Abedin. “He was a Catholic, but he respected me as a Muslim. We had good talks. May Allah Almighty give him eternal peace.”
During its War of Liberation, Bangladesh (then called East Pakistan) fought West Pakistan (26 March- 16 December 1971). During the hostilities, Fr Homrich saved hundreds of Muslims, Hindus and Christians by giving them shelter, hiding them in his church and feeding them.
“Fr Homrich gave a lot to the population of Modhupur [in the Diocese of Mymenshing],” said a saddened Harun Rashid. “When he was alive, we could have honoured him with Bangladeshi citizenship, but nothing was done. The Bangladesh government honoured him as a foreign friend but he should have road named after him in Modhupur.”
In 2012 Fr Homrich received a Friends of Liberation War Honour award, which is given to foreign nationals who helped the country win the 1971 war, directly from the hands of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
This recognition highlights Bangladesh’s friendship and gratitude for those who provide moral, mental, material, political, diplomatic, logistical and military support for the struggle for freedom of the Bangladeshi people.
Fr Eugene Eduard Homrich was born in Michigan in 1928 and arrived in Bangladesh in 1955. After learning the language, he served a Bengali congregation for three years in the Diocese of Dhaka. In 1959 he was moved to Jalchatra parish, in the Diocese of Mymensingh, where he remained until 2016.
The Garos are an indigenous Tibeto-Burman ethnic group who also live in India. About 120,000 live Bangladesh and are mostly Christians.