The Catholic Church in Bangladesh has grown with the assistance of European missioners, but the time has come for Bangladeshis to go forth and serve the Church as missioners.
During my childhood, I resolved to become a priest and shared that desire with friends. I entered a diocesan seminary and later joined the Xaverian Society.
St Francis Xavier is the patron of my home parish of Golla in Dhaka archdiocese. I revered the saint, who inspired me to become a missioner.
I later began work as the director of St Francis Xavier Seminary in the Diocese of Novaliches in Quezon City, the Philippines, and have assisted the nearby St Francis Xavier parish and directed the Mission Animation Ministry of the diocese since 2008.
There are only four native Bangladeshi missioners, including one deacon, serving foreign missions in Europe, Asia and Africa.
I am no stranger in the Philippines today. Bishops, the mayor [of Quezon City] and Catholics often thank me for serving them as a missioner and note with irony that the predominantly Christian Philippines could not send a single missioner to the Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
The language in the Philippines posed quite a challenge to me, along with local culture and customs. I still find it difficult to understand some words, but parishioners accept my shortcomings. Being a missioner in Quezon is a privilege.
In the Philippines, Catholics consider mass a grandeur celebration and they make it lively with their active participation. The Church is financially sufficient with support from local Catholics and does not need to depend on outside donations. Their respect for clergy and religious is enormous and inspiring.
However, there are also many challenges. Some parishioners send me text messages requesting special Masses, which I confess I do not like. For a missioner, it is always difficult to communicate well in a foreign culture.
To be a missioner is to serve the Church in the world, a great experience. The Church in Bangladesh has good vocations. It is time to send local missioners to the areas from which great missioners have come to Bangladesh. The time might come when we again need to import missioners from abroad. This is the circle of history.
But the local Church must make efforts to raise the standards of missionary vocations. Our parishes can do more to inform local people about various religious orders. The Church needs to better disseminate information and use the media to get the word out about religious and missionary orders.
Moreover, children need more encouragement from parents. The strength of the nuclear family in Bangladesh has sometimes contributed to a fall in missionary vocations.
The Church has inspired us to duly celebrate Mission Sunday and World Vocation Day. Bangladesh has followed its lead, but the results have not reached the level needed. Though we have a good number of local priests, the Church here needs to inspire more people to pursue mission work.
As long as I am physically able, I will spend my life serving various foreign missions. I dream of a creative and dynamic Church where Religious and lay people work hand in hand and respect each other equally.
Missioners have much to do in working towards a realization of that dream. But we must begin by better demonstrating the importance of mission work and how fulfilling a life of service in foreign lands can be.
Xaverian Fr Polash Henry Gomes is director of St Francis Xavier Seminary in the Philippines and head of the Mission Animation Ministry in Novaliches diocese
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