Gian Battista Zanchi leads a Lenten program in 52 villages. Confessions, visits and catechesis every day. The community that has asked to become Christian followed a three-year spiritual path. The missionaries’ gift of selfless service surprises those who are not accustomed to gratuity.
Dinajpur (AsiaNews) - The residents of four villages in Pime’s mission of Suihari, in northern Bangladesh, are preparing for baptism.
The first to be baptized will be nine families of Santhal origin from Paskur village, for a total of 52 people. 78-year-old Fr. Gian Battista Zanchi is the former Superior General of the Institute (2001-2013) who returned on a mission to Bangladesh at the end of his second term.
He notes "we do not ask them to welcome Christ, it is a free choice, developed within the entire community that has been preparing for a long time, abandoning deep rooted tribal traditions that have lasted for centuries."
Fr. Zanchi is parish priest of the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the diocese of Dinajpur, made up of 52 villages with over 5,400 faithful.
He continues: "There are really many but luckily we are able to serve everyone". The church compound also houses the Novara Technical School (technical school founded by PIME in 1965), the regional house and the youth hostel.
"Unfortunately we were forced to send all the pupils home - reports the missionary - because two days ago the government imposed the closure of the schools until March 31 due to the coronavirus".
In Dhaka there are 10 infected people, who have returned from abroad: "We hope and pray that the virus will not also break out here, because we lack everything".
The priest says despite the great risk of contagion, “we are pushing ahead with the Lenten program until the diocese makes various provisions. We continue with confessions, visits to villages, catechesis ".
Fr. Zanchi says the people of the village of Paskur, "will be baptized in late May and not at Easter, because that day the other priest and I, Fr. Joseph Murmu, we will move from village to village to guarantee everyone the liturgy of the Resurrection of Christ”.
In addition to this, there are other Santhal settlements on the list: Durgadanga (12 families for a total of 45 people, see photo), Damoua (seven families, 33 people) and Koikuri (16 families of 61 members).
"They started the path of formation with a permanent catechist, a prayer leader and a nun who is dedicated to them full time".
The missionary goes on to describe the process leading to the decision to convert, which only then is accompanied by the spiritual support of the priest.
“Here it works like this: the whole community presents officially requests to become a Christian community. We support this path because it gives a sense of the entire community that is moving forward. Then the catechetical preparation of the village lasts three years. "
The choice to baptize entire communities prevents Christians from being excluded from the rest of the group that opposes conversion. "As in the case of a village - he says - where a boy and another family had decided to become Christians. The young man was the son of the village chief, but I didn't know it. As soon as the father found out that they had converted, he decided to punish his son by removing the water from both houses. He had a hedge built around the houses to segregate them from the rest of the inhabitants. For two years they were forced to collect water in another village two kilometers away. "
But then, he continues, an unexpected event happened: "The mother got sick and asked for my help for the hospitalization in Rajshahi, the Sick Assistance Center, previously managed by PIME and now by the sisters of the Child Mary. Here she was treated and healed in 15 days. Back home, she said to her husband: 'Do you know that the patients are treated very well in Rajshahi hospital? There is a church, but nobody has ever forced me to go to mass. The sick arrive and are immediately welcomed with love ". The same night her husband took down the hedge and the following day he said to everyone: 'If you want to become a Christian, I will not object'. Today there are many faithful in that village ".
Usually, he highlights, “it is always someone who starts the process, because he is intrigued and amazed by the way we work in welcoming, we are at the service of the sick, we accept all requests for help without making any distinction. That person then returns to his village and testifies what he felt and saw. Ours is an announcement, not a constraint, we don't want to 'create' Christians at all costs. It is the gratuitousness of our service that surprises them, the fact that we do not ask for anything in return. I received faith as a gift and I make it a part of it. We teach those who have benefited to selflessly help others. " (A.C.F.)