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Church in Bangladesh

Capital : Dhaka
Population : 165.1 million
Catholics : 400,000
Jurisdictions : Two archdioceses and six dioceses
Parishes : 105
Major Religions : Islam 91.04%, Hinduism 7.95%, Buddhism 0.61%, Christianity 0.30%, and others 0.12%

The Church in Bangladesh began after the European missioners began to arrive on the east coast of India in the 16th century.

They were accompanied by Portuguese traders and mercenaries, who mostly hailed from the southwestern coast of India, a Portuguese stronghold at that time.

The first Portuguese expedition to Bengal landed in Chittagong in 1517. With the permission from Mughal Emperor Humayun, the Portuguese settled in Satgaon and later in Hooghly, which is now part of West Bengal provincial state in India.

They also settled in the Arakan kingdom, currently the Rakhine state in Myanmar, and Diang and Chittagong in Bangladesh. The missionaries followed them later.

Two Portuguese Jesuit priests -- Fathers Francesco Fernandes and Domingo de Sousa -- built the first church of Bangladesh at Iswaripur in the Sundarbans forest area, south of present southern Satkhira town and dedicated it on January 1, 1600, as The Church of the Holy name of Jesus.

Nothing of this first Christian Church in Bangladesh remains now.

Later, the Portuguese Jesuits had to discontinue their activities in the Bangladesh area. However, they were replaced the Augustinian priests.

Dom Antonio de Rozario, son of a local Hindu landlord, who was converted by the Portuguese, spearheaded the conversion of thousands of low-caste Hindus in the north of Dhaka. Englishman William Carey was the first Protestant missionary to the east coast of India.

He arrived at Serampore in West Bengal in 1793. Carey, a Baptist, heralded the new missionary era in Bengal. Since then, hundreds of Protestant churches and organizations have been established in the country.

Some 600,000 Christians live in Bangladesh now, a tiny minority in a predominantly Muslim country of 165 million people. The Catholic community, with some 390,700 members, is the single largest Christian group.

People from other religions in Bangladesh -- Muslims and Hindus -- regard Christians highly for their significant contributions in the field of education, health and social development.

Christian missionaries have contributed to the Bengali language, promoting its colloquial and simplified form rather than its highly sophisticated version.

A catechism book printed in 1743 in Lisbon, Portugal, is the first colloquial Bengali book in print, and it made use of the Latin script. The missionaries are also credited with codifying the Bengali grammar and writing a Bengali-Portuguese and Portuguese-Bengali dictionary.

Carey translated and printed the Bible in Bengali, and wrote many other books and a dictionary in the Bengali language. He also helped develop Bengali typefaces for printing. He even published newspapers and periodicals.

Currently, Bangladesh has eight Catholic jurisdictions -- six dioceses and two archdioceses.

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