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Catholic priest serves the poor in Bangladesh for 47 years

Maryknoll missionary priest Robert Terence McCahill serves the poor and sick people in Bangladesh for 47 years. (Photo by Nikhil Gomes/RVA News)

The US-born Catholic priest in Bangladesh is an early riser. He wakes up at 3:00 in the morning every day. He recites his daily prayers and celebrates Mass, and then travels to villages in search of sick people in need of treatment.

The 85-year-old Father Robert Terence McCahill, a Maryknoll missionary has been serving the poor and sick in the Muslim-majority of Bangladesh for 47 years.

People call him "Bob Bhai" in Bengali (Brother Bob). He is popular among the poor people for his service and for promoting a dialogue of life, especially among Muslim brethren. 

After his priestly ordination in 1964, he left for mission work in the Philippines. 

During 11 years in the Philippines, he lived in remote areas, traveling often by motorcycle where there were roads or on foot in the hills, to be with farmers and others in their remote villages and at their fiestas. 

“Despite many challenges, my life with people was busy and satisfying life of service to the poor. I chose to live poor among the poor in the Philippines,” he says.

Father Robert came to Bangladesh in 1975 after 11 years of service in the Philippines.

On December 2, 1975, Theotonius Amal Ganguly, then Archbishop of Dhaka, Bangladesh, invited the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, popularly known as the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, to work in Bangladesh.

Father McCahill was one of the early missionaries who arrived to work in Bangladesh. 

Archbishop Ganguly Dhaka permitted him to live among the Muslims and work for them, McCahill told RVA News.

"When I heard that Bangladesh was in need of service as the country was ravaged by protracted famine and natural disasters, I decided to work for the people of the country. Five of us—Maryknoll missionary came and now two are left,” said Father McCahill.

Among the five Maryknoll missionaries, he is the only one who works for Muslims. 

“Soon after I arrived in Bangladesh, I realized that I did not want to be a parish priest. I thought I could bear witness to Christ more intensely among Muslims,” he said. 

His mission was not simply because he decided to live among the poor like the poor. He traveled to more than 13 districts all over the country. 

“When I realize that people start to love me, I change places to go where I am needed the most and this is my missionary service style,” he said. 

The priest explained that the people of Bangladesh are good and they are simple and they like his mission work. 

"At first, I met suspicious people. They were not used to missionaries and foreigners among Muslims. They did not trust me and that was my challenge in my life in the beginning," he said.

Despite rising Islamic fundamentalism in the country, the missionary has never been threatened. 

“For me, we are all one human family—Christians, Hindus, Muslims and others. I have never tried to convert anyone. I only show my love, compassion, and the good heart that Jesus did in his life,” he said. 

Many people raise the question to him, “What is the result of your lifestyle and service among Muslims?” 

His answer will have no exactness nor does he expect positive feedback to continue this apostolate. 

“All apostolates depend on God and I feel that what I am doing is God’s will for me. I reckon that God has prepared me by my early life and missionary commitment for such an apostolate,” he explains.

The happiness and peace he experiences are surely God-given and are signs he should continue on this path for as long as his physical, mental, and spiritual stamina remain. 

When asked if he is practicing a form of dialogue that the Church approves of, his reply was, “Indeed, it is, because every Christian is readied by God, guided by the Spirit, and led by our Model in life, Jesus, to fulfill our mission in multiple ways,” Father McCahill says.

Thank God that he is still enjoying his good health, riding his bicycle, and happy for his priestly vocation. 

“I am always ready to move to a new place where people need service and I want to share my missionary love and service,” he says. 

At last, Father McCahill said, “My last desire is to serve people till my death and I wish to die in Bangladesh, the land of my mission.”


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.