PIME Superior in Bangladesh: The joy of my mission among the tribal, where entire villages convert
Fr. Michele Brambilla speaks of his 10-year mission among the local tribal. In the north of the country, the Church "had to be built from the ground up". In 2013 he became the first pastor of Kodbir. Mission in various fields: proclamation of the Gospel; education; care for the sick; economic aid. Since 2015 he directs the diocesan hospital in Dinajpur. "Even Muslims and Hindus need a word of comfort."
Dinajpur (AsiaNews) - "The most beautiful thing of my mission was when we formed the catechumens who could bring the word of God into the villages. And because of this work, 10 villages asked to become Christians. This testifies to the sharing of the Christian message, when an entire community shares every moment together, from baptism to death", recalls Fr. Michela Brambilla, regional superior of the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) in Bangladesh.
Reminiscing with AsiaNews he speaks of the 10-year mission in the Asian country, where he was sent to serve the tribal population. "The Church here has to be built from the ground up," he says, and "as a missionary this is one of our greatest joys: to see the community that take a path and complete it. You can build everything - schools, clinics - if you have the money; and this is a beautiful thing. But it is even better to see the path of a people, which is a step forward and two steps back, but eventually a path of Christian life. "
Fr. Brambilla is originally from Pessano con Bornago, near Milan. He tells that he had a missionary vocation from a young age, when a child he would read the magazine "Mission Italy" (current "World and Mission") published by the PIME missionaries fathers. This vocation matured within his family life, noting the example of an uncle who was a priest of the congregation and of a brother who worked for several years in China before being expelled.
Recalling his youth, the missionary tells of "having thought about marriage, because in front of me I had the example of the great love of my parents." But then he was struck by what he calls "intuition: the fact that maybe all I had done up to that point was not everything”.
He confided in a PIME priest and began a path of discernment with another missionary, Fr. Alberto Caccaro, who today works in Cambodia. After studying in the seminaries of Rome and Monza, and a short time in Detroit to perfect his English, in 2007 Fr. Brambilla received his missionary destination: Bangladesh.
Here in Dinajpur, in the north, he began his mission, among the tribal minorities, mostly ethnic Santal and Orao.
In 2009 he was assigned as assistant pastor in the parish Dhanjuri, of ancient origin, and founded by PIME priests. "There was no one who was Bengali – he recalls -: the pastor was Orao and the assistant was Khota." For three years he was especially involved in pastoral work in the villages, where he led catechesis and met the local population.
At the end of this first mission, in 2012 he was sent to Kodbir, in what was under the Dhanjuri parish. There his missionary work began "tiring but rewarding, since the area is located on the border with India and the villages are inhabited mostly by tribal non-Christians."
The greatest joy, he says, "took place on 16 November 2013, when the sub center became a real and proper parish ". From a small building of two rooms, built to accommodate Fr. Brambilla and two other nuns with whom he began this "adventure", today the parish "is autonomous and includes 42 Santal villages, six of which are predominantly Christian. In 22 others there are some Christians, while the rest is not a Christian".
The regional superior says that in Kodbir - where he was the first pastor - he divided up the missionary work into various fields: "The proclamation of the Gospel in the person of Christ; the education of children; health care to the poor and the sick; economic aid to local communities in order to improve their standard of living. "
For the educational field, the parish operates a "primary school that is open to everyone, Catholic children, tribals and Muslims". "All are welcome" he says, regardless of religion, "and today there are 163 in all." Young people receive further training while serving in the hostels of other missions.
As for health care, the Missionaries of the Immaculate (female Congregation associated with PIME), "run a medical dispensary, where mostly Muslims are treated. The sick pay only for their medicines while the health care offered by the nuns is completely free ".
From the social point of view, the priest explains that Kodbir "runs a kind of credit union where people can ask for loans at subsidized rates."
According to Fr. Brambilla, doing mission "means really thinking about things" and this is also reflected in the small things, like the management of the Credit union: "I had to learn about financial management not because I was the pastor, but because they needed someone who could be a point of reference. And to do that, I had to study".
"The most beautiful experience of these years - he says - was forming Christians who could spread the Word of God and lead the prayer on Sunday in villages. For this with my two full-time catechists and a nun we have formed a 'syllabus' for the catechumenate, that is, the preparation of non-Christians who have to learn to give up some tribal traditions. And in these three years, 10 villages have asked to become Christian".
Today, there " are about 300 catechumens in total, but we do not know when they will be ready for baptism. In principle, the approach path to the Christian life lasts about five years, during which the tribals have to give up the culture and beliefs. But there is no set time. "
Fr. Brambilla was appointed regional superior of his order in November 2015: "I did not expect it, I thought of having to do more work in the villages." "I always carry the experience in Kodbir in my heart- he says - because there I found authentic human relationships."
In Dinajpur he directs the St. Vincent Hospital, the local diocesan hospital, which cares mostly for Muslims. "In the hospital we see everybody and we are well regarded by the people, especially for the presence of the sisters who keep everything neat and clean." "Sometimes, when I have time - he admits in conclusion - I tour the departments, because I realize that the sick need a word of comfort. This also happens to Muslims and Hindus. One small example: outside the nursery room where there are babies in their cribs, there is a large statue of Our Lady. Every day 10 to 15 candles are lit at the Virgin's feet, depending on the number of children born. When you consider that at best one Christian child is born per day, you can understand how the other candles are lit by the faithful of other religions ".