02/24/2010, 00.00
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Bearing witness among the tribal peoples of Bangladesh

by William Gomes
Italian-born Fr Paolo Ciceri, from PIME, has been involved in this kind of work since 1973. Today, he lives in contact with tribal Oraos, pursuing the missionary experience he initiated with members of the Santal tribe. Announcing Christ gives people an opportunity to grow in human, cultural and spiritual terms.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The missionary journey undertaken by Fr Paolo Ciceri, from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission (PIME), has meant bearing witness to the word of God among tribal peoples, and contributing to their professional and spiritual development as well as their growth as human beings. He spoke to AsiaNews about his 38 years in the service of the Church in Bangladesh, describing his experience as he led some communities towards Christ, sharing their problems, suffering and desire for emancipation.

At present, Italian-born Fr Ciceri works in close contact with the Orao tribal people, who live in Rajshahi District, in northwestern Bangladesh.

“We visit 35 villages, where tribal Oraos asked us to teach them the word of God and bear witness to the life and message of Christ,” he said.

Adults listen to the Gospel, whilst children learn how to worship and couples learn how to consolidate their relationship in order “to be good husbands, wives, fathers and mothers.”

Missionary work does not stop at announcing the word of God; it also includes education. With this in mind, Fr Ciceri started a number of social projects. The result has been that more than 3,000 tribal children attend one of the 12 schools opened in the area. More than 2,400 people get health care. “We try every way to bear witness to the message of God,” he said, and meet the “challenges” the Church faces.

The PIME clergyman began his mission by establishing close ties with tribal peoples. In 1973, soon after his arrival in Bangladesh, he began to work with the Santals, who also live in Rajshahi.

The members of this tribal group lived in slave-like conditions and “had no rights to land,” Fr Ciceri said.  However, after the Gospel was announced to them and their problems began to be shared, they found the “meaning of the word love”.

In the first three years of mission, more than 3,000 tribal Santals converted and were baptised. Today, three of them have become priests with one living in Rome. Many more are waiting to further their education. Likewise, many members of the laity went on to higher education, becoming doctors, engineers, nuns, teachers and military.

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