PIME missionary remembers Dhaka attack, promotes dialogue between young people
The attack on the Holy Artisan Bakery Café three years ago resulted in 22 deaths, including nine Italians. A representative of the Italian government has called for “the truth to be found more quickly”. The terror cell behind the attack has been neutralised. A Christian group called Shalom is helping young people from different groups know each other better.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Three years after the terrorist attack in Dhaka, “It can be said with certainty that the Islamic cell that carried out the massacre no longer exists, but the crucial issue is education in schools,” said Fr Francesco Rapacioli, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PINE) in Bangladesh, speaking to AsiaNews.
Memorials were held today for the victims of the attack of 1 July 2016 that left 20 civilians dead, including nine Italians (picture 4), and two policemen. For the Government of Bangladesh, the anniversary has been an opportunity to stress again that the terrorist threat is over thanks to the physical elimination of terrorists in gun battles with security forces, something that has been criticised by NGOs around the world.
At the same time, for Fr Rapacioli, the event raises questions “about the role schools have played in all this and what we can do to help young people live in human brotherhood."
On the night of 1st July 2016, five members of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an Islamist fundamentalist group, stormed the Holy Artisan Bakery Café, a restaurant in the affluent district of Gulshan frequented by foreigners. They divided the customers into two groups. Those who knew the verses of the Qur'an by heart were released; the others were killed.
At present, the case is still before Dhaka’s Anti-terrorism Special Tribunal. After three years, 21 members of the JMB have been indicted, including bombers, planners and weapons suppliers. Court sources said that a total of 60 out of 211 prosecution witnesses have testified since the trial started.
Two ceremonies were held today to commemorate the victims. The first one took place at the Holy Artisan Bakery Café itself; a second one was organised at the Italian Embassy. The Italian missionary attended the latter.
“It was a brief but powerful ceremony, at the end of which a commemorative plaque was unveiled with the engraved names of our compatriots" (picture 2). The Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry was represented by Luigi Vignali, general director for Italians abroad, who "called for the truth be found more quickly to provide justice to the victims and their families".
Bangladesh was represented by an official acting on behalf of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who “stressed the importance of relations between Italy and Bangladesh, in terms of remittances from Bangladeshi citizens, but also as a factor in the growth of the Italian economy. He also reiterated the government’s zero tolerance policy towards radicals."
After the attack, Bangladeshis found that Islamic fundamentalism was deeply rooted in their country, especially in its foreign-funded Qurʼānic schools, and that the Internet was a privileged tool to influence impressionable young minds.
Even students from Catholic schools, who had been "educated in critical thinking, have been intercepted by terrorists and brainwashed,” Fr Rapacioli said. “In this case, the sense of Islamic community (Ummah) and the call to defend Islam at all costs tended to prevail.”
For the clergyman, "if we want to avoid creating the conditions for radicalisation, we must systematically monitor teaching in Islamic schools and teach to be more humane even in liberal and Catholic schools.”
With this in mind, he launched a charismatic movement in favour of dialogue and coexistence among young people of different religions. "It is called Shalom and was created in 2005 by me, a monk from Taizé, and a clergyman from the Church of Bangladesh (Presbyterians and Anglicans). With the group we have created opportunities for mutual knowledge, dialogue and reflection."
The group’s next meeting is on 21 September at Notre Dame University. "We are organising an event with the Episcopal Commission for interreligious dialogue. Some 60 young Christians and 60 young Muslims will meet.”
It will focus on the Declaration on human Brotherhood signed in February in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Great Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyib. We will discuss it with 22 theologians (12 from the Catholic seminary in Bonani and 10 Protestants), two principals from Protestant schools, consecrated people, presbyters and Protestant ministers."
"It is a symbolic meeting like the one that took place 800 years ago between Saint Francis of Assisi and Malik al Kamil, the Sultan (of Egypt). We want to focus on young people from different denominations through positive dialogue.
“It is a symbolic gesture, but it can build a different mindset and allow us to meet as Christians and Muslims; not pretending that we are all the same, but wondering, if it is possible and in what terms, we can live together, starting from our own group."