Priest in Dinajpur: a missionary with his life, wherever he is
by Anna Chiara Filice

Fr Tipu Panna is in Rome, with PIME Fathers for further studies. In his diocese, "There is a real need for spiritual guides; the priests who are there are not enough." "I am a priest because I want to be at the service of others". "Even just being nice to people means teaching Jesus,” he said about his missio ad gentes.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Being a missionary "means bearing witness to Christ with my life, wherever I am," said Fr Tipu Panna, 33, a priest in the Diocese of Dinajpur, Bangladesh.

Speaking to AsiaNews about his vocation and his years of study, he explains his priestly mission, which is to be “at the service of my diocese” where “There is so much work to do."

Following Pope Francis’s call to every Catholic for the extraordinary missionary month to renew their baptismal pledge and proclaim the Gospel, he notes that "To be a missionary you don't necessarily have to go abroad. Based on my abilities, I can be a missionary wherever I give myself. I can bear witness to my faith and evangelise through my work, behaviour, thoughts, and whole life.”

Fr Tipu was born on 5 August 1986 in Panchpukur, a village within the jurisdiction of St John the Baptist Catholic Church in Lohanipara. He has two other brothers and two sisters, one of whom is a nun.

An ethnic Orao, he is a third generation Catholic after his grandparents’ conversion when PIME missionaries arrived in the Diocese of Dinajpur. As a child, he studied in two parish-run boarding schools, in primary school in Boldipukur, and high school in Dinajpur and Suihari.

After going home to his village, he entered the diocese’s minor seminary. He later graduated in English literature from Notre Dame University in Dhaka, and trained at the Ramna minor seminary (associated with the Archdiocese), and in the major seminary in Banani.

In the meantime, he was involved with pastoral care in two parishes (Nijpara and Pathorghata), dealing with catechism, youth outreach, boarding school education and visits to the villages. He received his priestly ordination on 27 November 2015.

At present he is in Rome to study Liturgy at the University of Sant'Anselmo. The objective of this education "is to be able to return to the Diocese and teach other Catholics, catechists and perhaps even at the seminary and pastoral centre".

In fact, in Bangladesh, he notes, "there are no specific liturgy teachings, and I have learnt a lot since I arrived."

For two years he has lived with the Fathers at the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). "The experience with them is helping me a lot; I see good human relationships, which help others, and prayers. Living abroad, my attitudes have changed, becoming more open. All this will help me when I return to my diocese in Bangladesh."

In Dinajpur, he says, "there are about 40 priests and 16 parishes. The distances are great and a single parish can include up to 20 villages. There is a real need for spiritual guides, the priests who are there are not enough. Furthermore, the faithful are not always able to come to Mass, because Sunday is not a day of celebration.”

"A nice thing is when they manage to convince their employer to give them a day off on Sunday to go to Mass, working instead on Friday,” the Muslim day of rest.

The priestly path is not for everyone. "There are many who leave after a few years. Suffice it to say that when I entered the seminary, we were about 30, and in the end, there were five. Then I was the only one in my Diocese to enter the major seminary.”

Having lived among men and women of faith since he was a child, he "immediately had the desire to become a priest,” he says speaking about his vocation. “I saw the life of priests and nuns and was fascinated by their example. But that's not all: I am a priest because I want to be at the service of others, when I pray, I feel well, happy, satisfied in my relationship with Christ and in spreading the Gospel.”

As a diocesan priest, he explains what it means for him to talk about the missio ad gentes, going out into the world. For him, "Even just being nice to people means teaching Jesus”.

“If I have Christian values, I can work anywhere. Others realise that we are different, that we are Christians. In my country, Christians are valued because our values speak of respect and human rights; our schools guarantee a good education.”

"If I were to go to a Hindu or Buddhist country, it would be the same, because it is my life that bears witness to my vocation. As human beings, we must all respect each other. Of course, there are differences among us Christians. But when we speak politely, our behaviour speaks for us and in this sense, we can help everywhere."