12/27/2017, 11.07
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Fr. Cagnasso: Christmas letter, remembering Pope Francis in Bangladesh

by Franco Cagnasso

The Pope's visit to Dhaka has made Catholics "proud of being the center of attention". A year spent with difficulty, without the parish priest Fr. Quirico Martinelli in Italy for treatment. The Rajshahi Tenderness House group and the Bandarban hostel group. The school for girls and children in the Notun Bazar shantytown in Dhaka. A joyful and "grateful" Christmas.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Dear friends, I started writing this letter at the end of October, in Dinajpur, where I enjoyed some very pleasant days, together with the other PIME missionaries in Bangladesh, gathered for an assembly. We tasted the fresh climate, conversation with friends, the sharing of life, common prayer, laughter in which even the difficult moments pass, when they are remembered together. I needed this short interval, after five months of effort to cope with the commitments, which became excessive due to the absence of the parish priest Fr. Quirico Martinelli, in Italy for treatments which have been prolonged. But now Fr. Quirico has returned, we can help each other. And I can start writing ...

From November 30th to December 2nd, we had Pope Francis among us. The small and scattered flock of Christians in Bangladesh, even non-Catholics, had prepared with enthusiasm to welcome him, proud to be - for three days - the center of attention: we are here too! Many of the other religions have shown interest, and for the first time various TVs broadcast services on the visit, even live, including the long celebration of mass in the central park of Dhaka.

Everything was held peacefully, a "pilgrimage of the spirit" - said Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario, archbishop of Dhaka. The Pope praised Bangladesh as a "model" of coexistence between religions, and encouraged us to live our faith without timidity, joy, openness to meet with everyone, and to rediscover the beauty of following Jesus even when it costs sacrifices, marginalization, dangers.

For the occasion, a group of the largest members of the Snehanir community (House of Tenderness) came from Rajshahi. Twenty-five years ago the first child, orphaned and struck by polio, was welcomed by Sr. Gertrude and Fr. Mariano. There were no programs or projects; Snehanir began and grew step by step, "pushed" or "forced" by Providence, entrusted to Sisters Shanti Rani and PIME Missionaries, girls and children in serious difficulties for some disability, or for extreme poverty and without anyone to support them . At the Pope's Mass they had a "special" place, close to him: a small sign that, in the Kingdom of Heaven, those we think the last, are the first ...

In January we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Snehanir. Meanwhile, we are collecting stories from those who live, or lived in the community until they found their way in life. We would like to show that those who have some form of disability also have many skills, which should not be stifled or unexpressed, and it is a precious gift for those who can welcome it. We will make a small publication and hold a nice party, remembering those who help us with gratitude and all those who accompany Snehanir with thoughts, prayer, donations, friendship.

I have been unable to visit the Marma boys and girls of the hostel in Bandarban, because the government has forbidden foreigners to go to that area, considered "dangerous". The recent worsening of the Rohingya crisis and the large number of them that are crowded in the Bandarban region, make the situation even more delicate. Our hostel for now has not had any trouble, but there is concern. The Aboriginal peoples of the whole area (and the Marma among them), already  targeted by Bangladesh's internal immigrants in search of land, see in the Rohingya a danger for their villages, and they do not trust the protection of the numerous military forces distributed in the area , fearing they are more a support of the "invaders" than the protection of the residents: a painful war among the poor ... At the hostel, however, thanks to the project "Sister Water", we have improved the procurement and distribution of water. "Sister Water", however, was a little too energetic and in September too much rain damaged the foundations of two buildings, which we now need to strengthen and fix.

Not being able to go to Bandarban, I invited the young people to make the long journey to Dhaka, to spend two days of games, dances, sharing, prayers (each according to their faith) together with the children of our parish. It will not take long to accommodate them: some mat on the floors of our meeting rooms, while for food we have here a "flying cooking squad" that gets along very well with pots, rice and anything else you need.

The school for girls and children in the shantytown at Notun Bazar, in Dhaka, the courageous "undertaking" of Dino and Rotna, despite the fears after the terrorist attack in July last year, found friends who also helped to improve the quality of pupils' education and training, including attention to the fact that girls are not forced into early marriages. It is becoming a model school - naturally without neglecting to offer every day a precious meal to over 120 students and pupils.

The service of the CAM (Sick Help Center) continues in Rajshahi. In Bangladesh medical dispensaries, small clinics, maternity centers, etc., which were non-existent until a few years ago, are spreading. This is why, CAM attracts less "ordinary" cases, and more and more sick people in difficult, complex conditions that require expensive treatments: cardiopaths, patients in chemotherapy or in dialysis. Keeping up with new needs is not easy, but we want to continue because it is a valuable service: even in the parish we have three rooms available to those who must come to Dhaka for special care. We welcome, accompany, recommend, visit those who are hospitalized. Young people who live with us "waste" time chatting with the sick, creating a climate that is both fascinating and for which many are grateful because - despite being of another religion – they receive unexpected attention and sympathy.

With regards the young people living with us in the parish: this year Regan Gomes, who had been in the community for four years, was ordained priest for PIME and is already in Lisbon, where he studies Portuguese to go on mission to Guinea Bissau. He is the fifth PIME missionary from Bangladesh. After him, five young people are continuing their studies at the PIME seminary in Monza; three entered the seminary in Dhaka, others took other paths, or arrived new; now here are thirteen in all: a community in which I enjoy being part of, in spite of the difference in age!

Together with them, together with the many children, young people, the sick, the poor who, thanks to your help, can study, take care of themselves, live a little better, and together with the Christians of our communities, we sincerely wish you a peaceful Christmas, with the joy that the love of God comes to give us, in Jesus.

A cordial and grateful greeting.

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