01/04/2019, 18.07
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Maryknoll missionary serving Muslims in Bangladesh for 43 years

by Sumon Corraya

US-born Fr Robert Terence McCahill is 81 years old. He came to Bangladesh in 1975 after 11 years in the Philippines. He chose to live poor among the poor. Muslims call him "brother Bob".

Shariatpur (AsiaNews) – Fr Robert Terence McCahill, 81, wakes up every day at three in the morning, recites his prayers and says Mass, and then travels to villages in search of sick people in need of treatment.

The Maryknoll missionary has been in Bangladesh for 43 years serving the poor and disadvantaged in the Muslim majority country. When a Muslim man asked him to become Christian, he said: "You will only have sorrow". The man insisted: "You don’t understand Father, I want to become a Christian". The priest said again: "In doing so, you will have great sorrow."

Today the priest lives in Shariatpur, Dhaka Division. Born in the United States, Fr Robert is known to everyone as Bob Bhai, or brother Bob. In 1964, two months after he was ordained, he left for the mission in the Philippines, where he remained for 11 years.

“After hearing that Bangladesh was really in need and that it was ravaged by famine and natural disasters, I decided to work for the people of this country. Five of us came; two are left.”

Among Maryknoll missionaries, Fr Robert is still the only one who works for Muslims. "Immediately after my arrival, I realised that I did not want to be a parish priest. I could bear witness to Christ more intensely among Muslims."

His mission was not simple because he decided to live among the poor like the poor. In all, he has travelled to 12 districts all over the country. “When I realise that people start to love me, I change places to go where I am needed the most".

He rented bamboo houses and lived that way until the terror attack of 1 July 2016, the day of the Dhaka bar bombing. "Since then, the police no longer allow me to live in huts for my own safety," he explained.

Like his mission, life was never simple. "At first I met suspicious people. They were not used to missionaries and foreigners among Muslims and did not trust me."

One of them was Malak Islam, father of Al Amin, a six-year-old disabled child. "The man did not want me to take his son to the hospital for treatment. He made up his mind only after two and a half years." Malak Islam now says “I am grateful to Brother Bob. Thanks to him, my son is improving a lot".

Despite rising Islamic fundamentalism, the missionary has never been threatened. For him, "We are all one human family: Christians, Hindus, Muslims. I have never tried to convert anyone, I only show love, compassion and the good that Jesus did in his life."

At 81, the priest is not yet ready to "retire. I enjoy good health, ride my bicycle, am happy from my religious life. I am ready to move to a new district."

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