08/17/2016, 14.40
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Bangladesh says goodbye to Fr Homrich, a missionary of the Garo people

by Sumon Corraya

The 88-year-old priest decided to return to the United States for health reasons and after receiving death threats from Islamic extremists. A defender of the tribal north of the country, he has published hymns and prayers in the Garo language. He founded at least 30 schools to give children an education.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Catholics and tribal Garo greeted Fr Eugene Eduard Homrich, a 88-year-old missionary of the Holy Cross, who left Bangladesh yesterday after 60 years of work in the country.

On 12 August, parishioners organised a party in a church in Pirgacha, Tangail district (northern Bangladesh). In greeting him, a young Catholic said, "I thank you Father because you have sacrificed yourself for the Garo people. May God bless you and be with you, always. Thank you so much."

Fr Eugene Eduard Homrich was born in Michigan in 1928 and arrived in Bangladesh in 1955. After learning the Bengali language, he served for three years in the diocese of Dhaka, an ethnically  Bengali area. In 1959 he moved to JalchatraPparish, diocese of Mymensingh, where he remained until 1992. He was then sent to Pirgacha Parish, in the same diocese, and stayed there until now.

A few months ago, Fr Eugene received death threats from radical Muslims. For this reason, and because of his health, he decided to return to the US.

The diocese of Mymensingh is inhabited mostly by ethnic Garo. A large part of Fr Eugene’s missionary activity was directed to them.

"He founded more than 30 primary and secondary schools, where thousands of children received a quality education,” said Fr Simon Hacha, a priest from the diocese.

“He respected and nurtured the culture of the Garo people. He himself was a Garo, having learnt the language and published a book of hymns and prayers in it."

During his farewell party, Fr Eugene spoke about the importance of education for tribal people.

"Education,” he said, “is the backbone of the nation. For this reason, we must guarantee it for everyone, along with moral and spiritual education. To protect your existence, you must be united and work together to improve your living conditions."

“Fr Eugene was a defender of his parishioners, because very often the Garo people suffer from persecution by powerful people," Fr Hacha noted.

Tribals hold traditional title to many forests; however, they do not a title deed. Sometimes other landowners try to occupy and expropriate their land.

For his work in Bangladesh, Fr Eugene was also recognised by the government of Bangladesh. In 1971 the authorities honoured him for actively participating in the War of Independence from Pakistan.

Abdur Razzak, a former Minister of Food and member of parliament, was present at the farewell party and gave the priest a rosette.

"Fr Eugene,” he said, “changed the lives of the residents of this area. He did not work only for Christians but for the faithful of all religions. We respect him for his incredible contribution. He was also a freedom fighter for Bangladesh. He will remain forever in our hearts."

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