Christians in northern Bangladesh marked the centennial celebration of the migration of Bhawal Christians to the region on May 28.
“It's a grace of God for us that we, Bhawal Christians, passed one hundred years in North Bengal,” said Bishop Gervas Rozario in his message.
“It was not easy to live here when our ancestors came first from Bhawal area,” he said, adding that “day by day people adopted with the environment.”
The prelate noted that through the years, people developed economically, and family values were formed through education.
“We have to try to keep this spirit and to encourage the next generation to also contribute to integral development,” said Bishop Rozario.
About a century ago, many Bengali Catholics from Bhawal, one of Bangladesh’s largest and oldest Catholic strongholds covered by Dhaka Archdiocese, migrated to Pabna and Natore districts to escape poverty and seek economic prosperity.
The migrants gave birth to six Catholic parishes. Two were in Pabna — St. Rita’s Church in Mothurapur and St. Francis Xavier Church in Foiljana — and four in Natore: Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bonpara, Maria Virgo Potens Church in Borni, St. Francis Xavier's Church in Bhabanipur and Queen Assumed into Heaven Church in Gopalpur.
Set up in 1925, St. Rita’s Church is the oldest among them.
Altogether, these parishes have 14,000 mostly Bengali Catholics, collectively called “neo-Bhawal” in a reference to their original roots. They now belong to Rajshahi Diocese, a predominantly indigenous area with 67,700 Catholics.
The Bhawal area of Dhaka is a collective of eight parishes with more than 40,000 Catholics who make up one of the country's major Catholic bastions.
Christianity in the area dates back to the 17th century thanks to the evangelization of Catholic missionaries.
Migrant Bengali Catholics in Rajshahi trace the roots of their Christian faith and associated culture to Bhawal.
In 1928, priests from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions started serving Bengali Catholics as they did in other parts of Rajshahi Diocese and neighboring Dinajpur Diocese.
The PIME missionaries, however, didn’t attempt to convert local Muslims or Hindus but nurtured the faith of migrants.
The flow of Bengali Catholics’ migration to northern Bengal started in the 1920s.
Land in the area was cheaper than in Bhawal, so they invited their relatives to come and settle in the area.
The exodus continued in the following decades and hundreds of mostly poor Catholics from other parishes of Bhawal settled in Pabna and Natore.
“We are very thankful to God for giving us the blessing of a hundred years,” said Father Dilip S. Costa. - Nikhil Gomez / RVA News.