Missionaries hope Pope Francis will give Bangladeshi Christians the courage to go out and proclaim the Gospel
The pontiff will be in Dhaka from 30 November to 2 December. There is hope "the man who comes from afar will push the Christian community to come out of their homes and proclaim the Gospel". May Bangladeshi Christians "be more missionary among the people".
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Two missionary priests in Bangladesh hope that Pope Francis's visit to the country "will give its small Christian community the courage to step out of their own periphery and make the Church truly missionary through an evangelisation that does not look at the great numbers but at the quality of the Gospel proclamation.”
The two, Fr Michele Brambilla and FR Franco Cagnasso, spoke to AsiaNews, describing how people, Christians and non-Christians, welcomed the news of the pope's trip. If for Christians the visit is a "great recognition of their faith", for the rest of the population, "Pope Francis remains an unknown quantity." For this reason, they stress that they hope this trip "will push Christians, mostly tribal, not to be closed onto themselves but instead spread Christ’s message."
Pope Francis will be in Dhaka from 30 November to 2 December 2017. Across the country, prayer retreats, liturgical celebrations and special prayers are taking place to "prepare the spirit" of this great event.
Fr Michele Brambilla, PIME regional superior in Bangladesh, spoke about tribal communities living in the north of the country.
He expects local Catholics "to understand that there is a Church, that they are not alone, confined to their dioceses. On the contrary, there is a Church that goes beyond Bangladesh, made up of so many places and people, some even suffering more than in Bangladesh."
“As a missionary, I hope they will be braver witnesses of the Gospel, and they will go out of their homes and communities,” Fr Brambilla said.
In the north, "Tribals remain closed onto themselves,” he explained. “There is no indirect evangelisation. This stems from the fact that Catholic Santhal use their own language in the liturgy. So, for a Muslim it is difficult to understand what they are saying." The Santhal are an indigenous ethnic group.
Fr Brambilla hopes that "they will understand that as Pope Francis visits them, to bring them hope, Christians can do the same for the Bengali Church. It is not the pope alone who must 'go out' into the periphery, but local communities must be missionary as well. The work must not only be done by missionaries or priests, but it is the community as a whole that must evangelise."
"As a priest, I can promote this in the villages, but it is up to the people to make the [Gospel] proclamation. It is up to them to carry the faith forward."
For example, "There is a small village inhabited by 15 Christian families and 50 families of other confessions. Why is it that the other families have not perceived the beauty of the Gospel after 25 years? Because that Christian community is fragile and does not feel it can spread Christianity. The reason is that they are surrounded by an Islamic majority and are afraid of fundamentalism, but also because openly speaking as believers in Christ creates tensions and division in tribal society."
In light of all this, "I hope that Pope Francis's visit will be an example: a man who comes from afar can push us to realise that we can do the same in the nearby village."
For Franco Cagnasso, former PIME regional superior in Bangladesh, the greatest challenge is to make Pope Francis known to the majority of the Muslim population who "do not know who he is and what he is doing".
To give an idea of the widespread confusion among ordinary people, he noted that "Some people have asked me 'Is the pope the head of the Catholics or the Baptists? Is he the president of Italy or do you have a separate president? ' Only the better educated know who the pope is.
“Historically, all the pontiffs have talked about coexistence and interreligious dialogue. The fact that Pope Francis expressed himself about the Rohingya refugees says something in his favour in the collective imagination."
As for expectations among Christians, "they are curious and happy to meet the pope. But in general, we do not know what to expect from the event and what it can really bring to the country.”
“Certainly, there are no clear expectations. The broad vision is one of positive expectation, satisfaction and sense of pride for this visit. The pope will give visibility to the community and will make it clear that there are Christians in Bangladesh."
Finally, for Fr Cagnasso, “The Church in Bangladesh is a small Church that tends to be inward looking. It would be nice if the pope managed to give a boost to evangelical openness, not so much from a quantitative point of view, as in terms of evangelical coherence in the testimony."