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Laypeople should know their role within the Church, says Barisal bishop

Voice of Asian Bishops with Bishop Emmanuel Kanon Rozario

As the Church walks down the path of becoming truly Synodal, a Bangladeshi bishop encourages laypeople to become more involved and discover the roles they have to play as Catholic faithful.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Veritas Asia, Bishop Emmanuel Kanon Rozario of the Diocese of Barisal said that the Church cannot be truly vibrant if the people within it are not participatory.

“All the members of the Church are active parts… all the members will participate, cooperate and work together, and that will keep [the] healthiness of the Church,” said the bishop.

“Without that, the Church cannot be a symbol of communion and just cannot continue its mission in its [full] sense,” he also said.

He also acknowledged the “big group of women” who are becoming more involved in liturgical celebrations and formation programs.

“Their role is to be acknowledged. Their role is to be appreciated,” said Bishop Rozario. “They have to be given more opportunity so that they may get more scope to play a vital role and important role in the Church.”

Moreover, the bishop underlined the need for more intense programs directed at youth formation, which he considers not only the future but also “the present of the Church.”

“Our young people [are] active,” said Bishop Rozario. “They are lively. They are spontaneous in participating in different programs. But [I] think [it] is necessary [to] be with them and to guide them.”

“We are [trying] to take good care of them so that they may become really active ministers in the Church,” he also said.

Reaching out to every single layperson, Bishop Rozario said that loving the Church is the best way to “show that we are responsible” Catholics who follow the example of Jesus.

“Through the Church, God shows His mercy, and people realize God's mercy and love for them… Let us know the Church. Let us love the Church. Let us serve the Church as responsible steward with deep faith and great joy,” he said.

Shepherding a small diocese with around 20,000 Catholics, Bishop Rozario revealed that their pastoral theme is currently centred on the joy of journeying together, inspired by the Synodal concept of the Church.

Since the Diocese of Barisal is also home to various religious denominations and tribal groups, he said they have dedicated most of their time to “evangelization, new evangelization, and re-evangelization.”

“Barisal is a fertile land for all of this because we have many peoples of different religions,” he said. “We live together, we work together, [and] we go to participate in [our religious festivals of each other].”

Furthermore, Bishop Rozario also highlighted their mission of taking good care of families, which he believes is the most effective way to build a stronger local Church.

“I want to see this diocese as a vibrant diocese,” he said. “I want to see this diocese as a participatory diocese. I want to see this diocese really very self-sufficient. Even though we have a lot of lacking… we need to be aware of our responsibility.”

Read the full transcript of the interview below.


Sr. Laily Rozario: Bishop, can you tell us about your diocese, please?

Bishop Emmanuel:

Thank you very much. You know, Barisal is one of the eight dioceses in Bangladesh. It’s called the Barisal Catholic Diocese. It was created in 2015,, separating from Chittagong Archdiocese. Previously, it was part of the Archdiocese of Chittagong. And in 2015, Pope Francis created this new diocese. And in 2016, the first bishop of this diocese took responsibility as bishop Lawrence Subrata Howlader. And since then, it has been going on as one of the dioceses. And this diocese comprises eight and eleven civil districts and it has around 20,000 Catholics. This diocese is relatively small, but it is rich in nature. So Barisal Catholic diocese has many cultural, and religious diversities, it has a population who are predominantly from Bengali culture. There are people from tribals like Rakhine and Tripura. So culturally they are diversities and at the same time, we see that this small diocese is a gift from God for the church in Bangladesh.

Sr. Laily Rozario: Could you please share about your Vocation as a bishop?

Bishop Emmanuel:

This is a very critical question. Let us say that vocation is a gift from God. Actually, I got the vacation for a priestly life, and that was my desire. And I am happy as a priest. But after 29 years of service as a priest, God has called me to become a bishop and take responsibility for the diocese. So I think it's a special privilege for me and a special grace from God. And I consider this vocation as precious because God has a plan. God has a plan for me. And he has, as He has intended me to be in the diocese, to maintain a deeper relationship with the people of this diocese. So this vocation, I think, is a vocation of leading the diocese, the flock, as a shepherd. So this is a special grace and gift from God.

And as bishop, I have taken my motto, and that is my heart is rooted in your heart. And that is, I think that the main good shepherd Jesus is the good, real good shepherd. And I am serving in his name. So I think it is not my work only it is Jesus who works in and through me. Therefore, I consider the heart of Jesus to be the source of all strength and also the source of all the necessary power that I need to lead the flock. I see a deeper connection between my heart and Jesus's heart. And Jesus' Heart is the foundation on which my heart I kept. So there are demands for what is needed to lead the flock entrusted to me.

Sr. Laily Rozario: Bishop, We know that Pope Francis proposed a Synodal path for the church. Many people have called for more involvement, especially from the laity, and particularly women, to help the church move forward. What is your thought on that?

Bishop Emmanuel:

Yes, it is very important because we are in a time of synodality. We are thinking about the Synodal Church, which Pope Francis proposed. Actually, that synodality is the nature of the church because the church by its nature is synodal. That means that the church as the people of God walks together, all because if we consider the church as the living body of Christ. So all the members of the church are active parts, the body living it to keep the body alive, all the members will participate, cooperate and work together, and that will keep the healthiness and healthiness of the church, the life vibrant of the church. And that will make the church more vibrant, make this more alive. That is why the synodality gives us the opportunity to think and rethink and to become more and more aware of each and everyone's role in the church. The church is the people of God. Then we also think that we are the church, not only the priests, the clergy, the bishops, and the religious are the church. We all are the church. And therefore, we all need to work together, work together and plan together. That is the most important task.

Pope Francis invites us to be more aware of this. so that everyone has his or her place in the church and everyone has his or her role to play in the church because, without that, the church cannot be vibrant. Without that, the church cannot be participatory. Without that, the church cannot be a symbol of communion and just cannot continue its mission in its full sense. Therefore, I think this Synodal concept of the church is more important, since in the church the laity number of the laity is small. Therefore, it is expected that more laypeople will participate tomorrow. Of course, over time we have seen in some places in some context, that maybe there is a lack of this sort of participation for different reasons. But this is the time now to think more about how to involve the laypeople in the church's activities, various activities, including liturgy and other activities of the structural aspects of the church.

Therefore, the laypeople need to be more involved and also among the laypeople. That is a big group of women. and women, are more active in the church than they know from our experience, the women, are very active in liturgy, they are very active in prayer, they are very deep in church activities and formation of the children taking care of the families. So, therefore, their role is to be acknowledged. Their role is to be appreciated. They have to be given more opportunity so that they may get more scope to play a vital role and important role in the church, because God has given each and every one of us various charisms and church, which is the living body of Christ, all the charism of the laypeople, the women, the laity, all the charism should be used for the building up of the church that is the body of Christ. I think that is very important.

Sr. Laily Rozario: How do you find the role of young people in your diocese? Are they active?

Bishop Emmanuel:

Yeah, that is another important area to think about with young people. The young people are not only the future; they're also the present of the church. So they have a more important role in the church. And as church leaders, we need to pay more attention to the proper formation of the youth. I think our young people are active, and lively, and spontaneous in participating in different programs. But what I think is necessary is to be with them and to guide them. They need guidance. They have talents. They have charism. They have the necessary strength, the creativity. But what is important is they need a guy. They need guidance proper motivation and formation. So I think that we have a good number of young people in the diocese and they are active and we are trying our best to make various programs for them so that they may be formed well and then understand what is the church and who are they and what is their role in the church. And therefore, in my opinion, our young people are very precious, precious treasures for the diocese, and for the church. So we are proud of them and we are taking, you know, trying to take good care of them so that they may become really the active ministers in the church.

Sr. Laily Rozario: Bishop, Where would you like to see your diocese in the next few years? In the action plans?

Bishop Emmanuel:

Well, as I have taken responsibility for the diocese, I have some plans for what the diocese, of course, to make the action plan is to first and foremost have the priorities for the diocese. What are the priorities? So as for our diocese, we have taken the pastoral theme, the joy of journeying together in the church based on the synodal concept of the church. In that pastoral letter I have mentioned, promoting the priorities for the diocese.

The first priority is evangelization, and that is most important for us evangelization, new evangelization, and re-evangelization. All of these are very important. And second is about communion. The church is to be built as a community of communion, a community of communion. So I think that is important to make the church symbol a sign of communion. And the third is that the diocese in Barisal is a very fertile land for dialogue, inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue. Therefore, is another priority how to develop our dialogue and have life dialogue in the diocese. Another priority we have is how to develop the infrastructure of the diocese and also how to make the diocese self-sufficient. The next priority that we have is the family apostolate families and the important aspect because family is the domestic church. If we can take good care of the families, which is the foundation of society and of the church, I think the local church will be stronger. Therefore, family apostolate is also very important. So, in this way, I have sought out some of the priorities for the diocese.

And for my diocese, I think we have more programs for our mission and also to promote vocation for religious priestly life which is also very much needed. Therefore, we have also taken several programs for the young people, the students, so that they may understand what is the plan of God, what is their vocation how they can respond to God's call and how they can come forward to offer their lives as priests and religious. So these are some of the priorities for the diocese. Based on that, we have checked out the action plans. This action plan is for all individual parishes and the parish community together, the parish priest, and parish council members, are making action plans for their parishes so that they may actualize and implement the action plan Are the priorities of the diocese.

In this way, we can move forward. I want to see this diocese as a vibrant diocese. I want to see this diocese as a participatory diocese. I want to see this diocese really very self-sufficient. Even though we have a lot of lacking. So, we have a lot of needs, but we need to be aware of our responsibility. How we can be Each and every member of the church can be a responsible steward in the church because if they understand their role and they all understand our role we also all understand our responsibility in the church. Then we will be more active and then we can make our church self-sufficient. And that is my dream to see the diocese.

So, in this way, I think we have several attempts to implement the concept of the FABC and sense of dialogue. We can see FABC has a triple dialogue dialogue with the religions, dialogue with culture, and dialogue with the poor. So I said, Barisal is a fertile land for all of this because we have many people of different religions. So, we live together, we work together, we go to participate in the feast, our religious festivals of each other. So, we try to have dialogue so that we may have more peaceful coexistence in society we may Live as brothers and sisters, and we may build a bridge to build up the gaps among religions. We have different cultures, as I mentioned we have also the Bengali people, traditional Bengali people. We have tribals like Rakhine Stipura with different cultures of there.

Sr. Laily Rozario: Bishop, what are the major challenges you face and how do you deal with them?

Bishop Emmanuel:

Thank you very much for asking this. There are a lot of challenges because we are a living community comprised of various sorts of people, and that will be a lot of challenges. It depends on what perspective or whose viewpoint you look at, the challenges that must have economic challenges, political challenges, cultural challenges, and lack of challenges are there. But as I think as the bishop, the most important for me is the proper understanding of the concept of the church that is on challenge because we need all, as I said, the church is the people of God. So we need to have a proper understanding of the church. That means proper knowledge of the ecclesiology. And also we need to understand that the challenge is that we don't understand actually the theology of baptism because we are members of the church. So, therefore, we all are of the same dignity and we all are also called to participate actively. So these viewpoint is not clear to all. That is one of the challenges. Therefore, there are different opinions, different sorts of activities, and different sorts of blaming each other. And therefore I think that that is the main challenge, that we lack proper knowledge of the church.

And for and the second challenge I think, is also how to catechetical how to teach catechism teaching catechism is another challenge because if we do not understand our religion, if we do not understand that there is a church, if we do not understand what is what we are created for, then our life is different. So catechism is important and essential to growing up as a believer, as a true, authentic and active member of the church. So catechism in our time, I see that we had adequate catechism as a child from our childhood. But now, for various reasons, we find it difficult to have this proper catechism. So this catechism, without catechism, we cannot be responsible. And people, believers.

So these are two major challenges, I think, from a bishop in the diocese. So in order to respond to these challenges, we have to sort of plans and activities because the first thing is we are trying to motivate people because if we cannot give the proper motivation there will be no change, and no change will take place. So motivational work we are trying to give different seminars, training and formation programs for different levels of people. And second is that we are trying in the parishes, in villages to give proper education, especially the catechetical education to our children, so that they may, from their childhood, understand who they are, what their role in the churches, and how they can take an active part in the church. So we have programs for that. So formation program is important for us in order to respond to these challenges.

Sr. Laily Rozario: Bishop, do you have any messages for our viewers from around the globe?

Bishop Emmanuel:

For our viewers, I would like to say that we are fortunate to be members of the church. So in this regard, I would suggest each and every one of us know first and foremost about the church. So it is that, yes, we have the chance and we are the people of God. So we have to have proper knowledge of the church. If we have this proper knowledge that knows you, you'll be able to love the church. Let us love the church because the church is the body of Christ and the church. We are active members of this body, so we have a special role. We have a special responsibility, and we are responsible stewards in the church and through our love, we will show that we are responsible. Steward And thirdly, let us serve the church because it is our role to serve because Jesus, who founded the church and who called us, is a servant, He is a suffering servant. He came to serve, not to be served. Therefore, following the example of Jesus, let us serve the church so that we may make the chairs a channel of God's mercy and love for all. Because through the church, God shows His mercy and people realize God's mercy and love for them. So, the church will make the Kingdom of God visible in the world. So let us know the church Let us love the church and let us serve the church as responsible stewards with deep faith and great joy. Thank you.

Sr. Laily Rozario: Thank you, Bishop. And thanks for watching this interview. See you next time for another interesting conversation. Thank you to you all.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.


Chhabi Gomes, Nov 23 2023 - 2:52am
Thank you Bishop 🙏