Utholi: five new baptisms, with lives at risk
by Sumon Corraya

Some radical Muslim groups do not tolerate the presence of Christians in the area. Those who abandon Islam live under constant threats. Some parishioners go to Mass wearing the burqa, to confound extremists. After being attacked and hospitalised, a young Catholic hid in a church for a month.

Manikganj (AsiaNews) – In the Archdiocese of Dhaka, Catholics welcomed into their community five converts who were baptised on Easter night at the church in Utholi (pictured), Manikganj district.

For security reasons, it is not possible to reveal their names but all five were full of joy for welcoming Jesus into their hearts.

"I am very happy, because from now I can pray to the true God, who died for us on the cross," a 23-year-old woman said. Like the others who were baptised, she has had to overcome many obstacles to become a Christian and now risks being killed by radical Muslims.

The parish priest Fr Thomas Corraya told AsiaNews that "the first seed of Christianity in Utholi was planted by the Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship (BBF)."

"This Protestant church operated in the area between 1988 and 1997. When the Baptists left, the priests of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) arrived,” he said.

"The latter began to preach God’s message with a sincere heart and worked here until 2015. Today there are about 250 good Catholics, all converts, and the leaders of this young community are local priests and nuns."

Fr Thomas is full of admiration for the priests from the Milan-based Institute who, over time, built three schools and two hostels, as well as a church inside one of them.

Parish children attend these schools, which “are a valid instrument of evangelisation and slowly contribute to winning over the hearts of many people.”

Still, many dangers hang over converts in Utholi. "Last November,” Fr Thomas explained, “we baptised 12 former Muslims. Since then they have received death threats. Some of the parishioners come to church wearing a burqa, so as to confound Islamic fundamentalists."

A young man who was baptised recently was the latest victim of violence. "Three masked individuals attacked him on his way home from the church. He was beaten and had to be hospitalised. Later he found shelter for a month in the parish building. He has put his life at risk by changing religion.”

The priest notes that the Catholic community has relations with local imams and Islamic leaders. However, some radical Muslim groups do not tolerate the presence of Christians. Father Thomas has called on everyone to pray for them.