Sr Filomena spent 55 years in Bangladesh and hopes to return there
A missionary of the Immaculate, she is going back to Italy for medical treatment but the country that welcomed her remains in her heart. Her pastoral service was first and foremost for the women at the needlework centre in Gopalpur. She travelled around on her motorbike to preach the Gospel.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Sister Filomena Alicandro, 85, has been in Bangladesh for 55 years. A senior member of the Missionaries of the Immaculate, the PIME Sisters, she worked at the church in Gopalpur, near Natore, for over 40 years.
Recently, she moved to Mirpur, near the capital, for medical reasons before going to Italy for further treatment.
Upon her arrival in Bangladesh in 1966, the country did not yet exist. “This was East Pakistan then and poverty and backwardness were widespread,” she told the Mondo e Missione magazine.
“In rural villages, children did not go to school, and in families, women were treated like servants and counted for nothing in society,” she explained.
Even "the roads were not good. I used a motorcycle to travel and preach the Gospel but sometimes it was difficult to drive because of the mud or the dust,” she told AsiaNews before flying back to Italy.
Yet, her home visits allowed her to win over locals. “I am happy to have done the work of catechist for Jesus Christ. It seems to me that 55 years in Bangladesh went by quickly.”
As soon as she landed in the country, she realised that most of the women did not have employed work.
Since she had learnt to sew as a girl, she decided to teach local women how to embroider simple designs on the material used for the liturgy. “We sold them and the proceeds went to the women to empower them economically.”
In Sister Filomena's needlework centre, mothers could not to send their children to school. “Sometimes the women directly taught the children. Some local girls became nuns,” she told AsiaNews.
Born on 28 January 1937 in the diocese of Gaeta (Italy), she began her training in 1958 and became a nun in 1961. However, “From childhood I have been involved in the activities of the Church,” she explained.
Before starting her missionary life in Bangladesh, she worked at the PIME centre in Milan, and collaborated with the Italia Missionaria (Missionary Italy) and Mondo e Missione (World and Mission) magazines.
Last year, she received the Cuore Amico (Friendly heart) award in Brescia in recognition of her work. The prize is usually given to support missionaries.
Once her treatment is completed in Italy, she wants to go back to Bangladesh, but she is not sure if she will be able to do it because of her advanced age.
Nevertheless, “even in Italy my mind will be in Gopalpur. I will never forget this beautiful country.”