02/08/2018, 16.25
BANGLADESH

Dhaka church ransacked, priest beaten and threatened with death (photos)

by Sumon Corraya

Canterbury St Augustine is one of Bangladesh’s oldest churches. Robbers broke into the building, tied up and beat the parish priest, Fr Pereira, ransacked the church, and broke open the offering boxes.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Early this morning a Catholic church in Dhaka was ransacked and its parish priest beaten and threatened with death if he refused to hand over money and other valuables to his attackers.

The Canterbury St Augustine Catholic Church is located in Tongi, an industrial north of Dhaka. At least five robbers were involved, three of them masked.

Around 4 am, the thieves broke into the church, which has no security guard or CCTV cameras. Fr Chanchal Hubert Pereira, the parish priest, was sleeping in the building at the time along with the gardener and the cook.

The priest said he heard noises from outside. The criminals then opened a window and pointed a gun at him. "They said they would kill me if I did not open the door. I was forced to let them in."

Once inside, they waved their weapons to intimidate the clergyman, and slapped him in the face. "To save my life I had to give them money, about 35,000 takas (US$ 420), my mobile phone, and laptop computer".

The thieves went into the church part of the building and ransacked it, messing up the vestments, liturgical books, and the altar. They broke three offering boxes and took the money.   

"When I entered the Father’s room, I found him in tears and tied up,” said Bejoy Costa, the cook, speaking to AsiaNews. During the robbery, the lights were out, and so he could not see anything.

Bablu Peris, a member of the parish council, is “worried about the security of the church and the parish priest. We will arrange for video surveillance cameras and a night guard as soon as possible."

Several local residents, Muslims and Christians, condemned the incident. Helel Uddin, head of the local police, visited the church and said that the authorities "will investigate the incident and hopefully arrest the robbers very soon.”

For Mohammod Sahidulla Sarkar, a former head of the Union Parishad (rural council), "It is a shameful act. A church is a sacred place. We are saddened at what happened."

Hemanto Corraya, secretary general of Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA), wants "the police to arrest the robbers soon and ensure exemplary punishment".

The Canterbury St Augustine Church is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Bangladesh. It was established in 1893 by the missionaries of the Holy Cross. Today it has 620 parishioners and two chapels.

Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country. Christians represent less than 0.3 per cent of the population (600,000, including 380,000 Catholics), out of a population of almost 163 million people.

Local sources report that every year churches and nun-run institutes are the victims of break-ins and robberies.

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