Father Belisario, from Colombia, is a ‘fidei donum’ priest with the mission ad gentes together with PIME Fathers. The Diocese of Rajshahi works with tribal communities, educates poor children, and supports interfaith dialogue. The missionary opened a YouTube channel to broadcast the Mass, but it needs funds. He hopes that the “extraordinary missionary month of October will make each of us feel the enthusiasm,” and not focus only on the well-off.
Rajshahi (AsiaNews) – The place where "God wants me to be is Bangladesh" said Fr Belisario Ciro Montoya, a 34-year-old Colombian priest who serves in the Diocese of Sonson-Rionegro, Bangladesh as a fidei donum priest working with Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). He spoke to AsiaNews about his missionary experience.
"From day one, when I landed in Dhaka, I felt a sensation of fulfilment. In Colombia I went to parishes and seminaries, but here in Bangladesh I truly experience the completeness of life in Christ. I feel fulfilled, happy, a sensation that cannot be humanly explained. I myself wonder how such a diverse culture and a predominantly Muslim population are possible in such hot weather.”
Fr Belisario remembers that he arrived in Dhaka in 2014. After a period of language training, he was assigned to Danjuri's mission. The first years of bearing witness to the Gospel in the Asian country were marked by various logistical difficulties, not to mention mourning for his father’s death.
"For security reasons related to the attack against Fr Piero Parolari and other foreigners, the authorities gave me a five-men police escort, who never left me alone when I visit the villages." The nine months he spent there were the "hardest, but I was happy."
When his father died in 2018, he wanted to help and comfort his family. “For this reason, in agreement with the bishop of my diocese, I went home for over a year. It was a gift, because I was able to celebrate my father's funeral Mass and I was with him at the time of his death.”
He came back to Bangladesh on 3 August. "It was as if I owed something. After learning the language, customs and traditions, it would have been a waste not to return. Above all I knew that people were waiting and praying for me in Bangladesh.”
Currently, Fr Belisarius serves in Chandpukur parish, Rajshahi, Bangladesh’s northernmost diocese on the border with India. The church covers 70 villages and 7,000 Catholics in the largely Muslim-majority area.
“Many are ethnic Santal and Orao who converted recently, but maintain some traditions linked to their culture of origin. Our work is directed above all to education, to make them understand the meaning of their new life in Christ.”
As for the method, "we support a process of inculturation, as Pope Paul VI suggested, that is, we encourage those elements of the indigenous culture that do not offend human dignity and eliminate those that deviate from Christian practice and do not do the good of man.”
“For example, the Santal funeral ritual involves the sacrifice of animals. Instead we explain that the blood of animals does not serve the deceased, because only the blood of Christ redeems us and gives us eternal life. On the other hand, we kept the ‘bindi’ in the marriage ritual, which is an exchange of a red paste on the forehead of the spouses that symbolises respect."
The missionary is the treasurer of the two hostels, one for boys and one for girls, associated with the parish. "There are so many needs because the tribal people are very poor, do not own the land and live far away. There are no schools and their language is not taught.”
"They are supposed to study with Muslims, but as a minority, they are very shy. At present, our hostels have 250 kids, the youngest being 5-6. They study, eat and tend the mission farm, growing the vegetables and the rice they consume.”
Fr Belisario is also a member of the Diocesan Commission for Interreligious Dialogue. "We organise meetings of members of the various communities to talk about peace and harmony, about the care of creation.”
Similarly, “We hold meetings in schools, where students are eager to participate and fully understand the harmony on which Bangladesh has been built since independence, in a climate of tolerance and respect between religions."
Unfortunately, "in recent years the seeds of evil and discord sown by a radical Islam that does not belong to this country have budded, see the suicide bombings in Dhaka. However, these episodes have nothing to do with Bengali culture, which is welcoming and respectful, even to missionaries.”
His latest project is a YouTube channel that was opened together with a diocesan priest "where we upload videos dedicated to the Gospel in the local language. It is an important service of Christian witness to those who cannot come to church for Mass. The Good Friday video was seen 2,000 times: this means there is a thirst for Christ."
Now, Fr Belisario is looking for funding for a video editing programme and appeals to anyone who can donate however small a sum. "Thirty euros (US$ 33) a month is enough," he said.
The clergyman will remain in Bangladesh for another four years, and has "deep gratitude and admiration” for PIME Fathers. “I am here for a limited time; they serve for life."
Still he hopes that the “extraordinary missionary month of October will make each one of us feel the enthusiasm we experienced in 2017 during Pope Francis’s visit. Everyone in the Church must rediscover the fundamental aspect of the mission ad gentes, which is not only caring for the well-off,” but also focus especially “on the many who still die in obscurity and in the ignorance of Jesus." (A.C.F.)