Church in Bangladesh must learn to speak up on social issues
Fr. Sergio Targa discusses missionary life in a country constantly on the brink of religious conflict
Fr. Sergio Targa heads the national social and catechetical center in Jessore, Bangladesh (Photo: Vatican Insider)
Bangladesh is a land marked by deep social inequality, where the embers of religious discrimination crackle beneath the ash. The country is home to 160 million people, 88 pecent of whom are Muslim, 10 percent Hindu, one percent Buddhist and less that one percent Christian (mostly Catholics). There are 350,000 Catholics in the country. Fr. Sergio Targa, who has been a missionary since 1992, now directs the national social and catechetical center in Jessore. In this new role, he says he hopes he will have the chance to influence the Church’s future leaders. Below is Vatican Insider's Q&A with Fr. Sergio:
Could you give us a snapshot of the religious situation in Bangladesh?
“Bangladesh is a tolerant country but it is subjected to international Islamic fundamentalism. There is a hidden and little known Islamism which rears its ugly intolerant head now and again. At the moment, religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami have undergone repression and seem to have left the public political scene partly because of the centre-left government’s heavy handedness. Indeed, they have formed a network across various parts fo the country, they receive generous funding from abroad and are always on the ready. Clashes intensified prior to January’s political elections, leaving hundreds dead.”
What role does religious sentiment play?
“It is easy for political and financial elites to manipulate the religious sentiment of the masses. In the run up to the elections and the aftermath, many religious minorities, particularly Hindus suffered abuse, oppression and violence from the Muslim majority.”
And what has the Government’s response been?
“The government does not seem capable of guaranteeing security. This causes more and more Hindus to flee Bangladesh and head to nearby India. In 1947, 35 percent of the country’s population was Hindu, this percentage has now dropped to less than 10 percent."
What are the main causes of these conflicts?
“Bangladesh desperately craves more land. Its enormous population has to fit into a country that is less than half the size of Italy. Religious conflicts are often a way of snatching land away from minorities, particularly Hindus. Tolerance is always fragile here.”
What is the human rights situation like there? What can the Church do?
“The human rights situation has deteriorated, particularly over the past year. Political conflict has increased. Violence is expected to escalate after the Eid celebrations at the end of Ramadan. Unfortunately the Catholic Church -- possibly because it has such few members here -- does not seem to fulfil its prophetic role, preferring to keep a low profile instead of creating potential obstacles for itself were it to become too vocal on political or social issues.”
Source: Vatican Insider
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