Thousands of Bangladeshi Catholics and others celebrating the relics of St Anthony of Padua (photos)
by Sumon Corraya

The remains arrived 1 February. On the 8th, they will continue their pilgrimage to India and the United States. At least 70,000 people came to the shrine of St Anthony in Panjora; other 40,000 came to the Tejgoan Church, Dhaka. Card D'Rozario is behind the visit.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Catholics from across Bangladesh are coming to honour and touch the relics of Saint Anthony of Padua, brought on a pilgrimage to the Asian country for the first time.

The remains of one of the most beloved saints among Catholics, Muslims and Hindus, arrived on 1 February and will remain until the 8th before going to India and the United States.

"We are astounded by the respect people have for Saint Anthony,” said Mgr Francis Gomes, auxiliary bishop of Dhaka. “Thousands are coming to see the relics. They wait in line for an hour and when they come before him, they burst into tears of devotion and pray for the saint."

The case in bust form that holds the remains of the Portuguese-born saint was exposed at the Tejgoan Church in Dhaka, dedicated in his honour.

So far, at least 40,000 people have come to pay their respects. Last Friday, the relics arrived at the St Anthony shrine in Panjora, the main shrine in the country, where at least 70,000 people were waiting.

Many non-Catholics were among the many devotees, including, Purubi Ray, a Hindu, who admits that he recited "a secret prayer".

Two Catholic women, Sudip Mondol and Momota Roy, came to kiss the relics and thank the saint.

The first addressed a special invocation, that Saint Anthony may heal her disabled child. The second one gave thanks "because my husband and I have been blessed by the arrival of Neela", now 15 years old, born after 10 years of intense prayers.

Card Patrick D'Rozario, the country's first cardinal, pushed for the pilgrimage. He invited friars from Padua for the saint’s feast day, which falls on 3 February in Bangladesh.

The celebrations at the Panjora shrine, Nagori parish, are among the most heartfelt ceremonies, and draw home migrants working abroad.

"This year, more people have come, given the presence of the relics," said Nagori parish priest Fr Joyanto S Gomes.

A novena was recited in the days before the celebration. “Hundreds came to confession,” he explained. “In all, we distributed about 140,000 hosts during liturgical services."