Tribal Mahalis in Rajshahi celebrate 100 years of the first Catholic community (photos)
by Sumon Corraya

The local bishop, Mgr Gervas Rozario, remembered the work of Fr Francesco Rocca and other PIME missionaries. Tribal leaders, 20 priests and about 250 believers from the dioceses of Rajshahi and Dinnajpur took part in the anniversary ceremony titled ‘Thanks, praise and joy’.

Rajshahi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic community in Mundumala, Diocese of Rajshahi (northern Bangladesh), is celebrating the first conversions to Christianity among Mahali tribal people one hundred years ago.

More than a century ago, Fr Francesco Rocca, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), arrived in the village of Chokjodu, located in a remote part of what was then northern India (now Bangaldesh) where he undertook the mission of evangelising the region.

To remember the work of Fr Rocca and other PIME missionaries, the local bishop, Mgr Gervas Rozario, led a ceremony three days. Local tribal leaders, 20 priests and about 250 believers from the dioceses of Rajshahi and Dinnajpur joined him in the service.

During the commemorative event, which was titled ‘Thank you, praise and joy’, the prelate honoured 75 catechists and prayer leaders for their contribution to the Church.  Believers, priests and all the other participants lit 100 candles.

"If Fr Francesco Rocca had not planted the seeds of Christ here, we tribals today would not be such good and well-prepared professionals. We are grateful to the PIME missionaries," said Cornelius Tudu, one of the Mahali leaders from the Diocese of Rajshahi, who spoke to AsiaNews.

Tudu, who is country director for SIL International, a US-based NGO, Tudu said that "before knowing Christ, Mahalis worshiped a god and a goddess and used to work bamboo.”

"Evangelisation enabled us to progress and successfully perform in other professions,” he explained. “At present, 55 per cent of the Mahali are still working with bamboo."

The Mahalis in Bangladesh number around 30,000, 96 per cent converts to Christianity.

Tudu notes that Church authorities have helped the once inward-looking community to open up. The tribal community now includes NGO directors, university professors, government officials and professionals.

In his homily during the Jubilee Mass, Mgr Rozario thanked "PIME missionaries, who first introduced Jesus Christ into the lives of Mahalis.”

"I also thank the community because It has been able to keep Jesus Christ in its heart, bearing witness to him, and following him for the good of the Church and the country."

"By welcoming Jesus Christ, we have obtained salvation and our people have known socio-economic development,” said Fr Fabian Mrandy, an ethnic Mahali priest. In turn, “we are now contributing to the Church through vocations."

At present, the tribal community has produced 10 priests and 20 nuns. "Thanks to the support of PIME missionaries, thousands of children and young Mahalis have been able to receive a good education in boarding schools and hostels run by the Church," Fr Mrandy added.