Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh, distributes Bibles to participants of the National Pastoral Workshop of Catholic Church in Dhaka on Aug. 31. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)
The Catholic Church in Bangladesh plans to treat the welfare of families and poverty, as well as environmental protection and migrant welfare, as pastoral priorities in the next decade.
New guidelines state that such an approach would "give witness" to the Church in the low-lying nation.
A 12-point 'mission statement' was issued at the end of a national pastoral workshop of the Catholic Church held Aug. 28-31 at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh secretariat in the capital, Dhaka.
It was themed 'Communion: Witness of the Church in Bangladesh.'
Pastoral priorities are to include spirituality of communion in individual, family and social life as well as the formation of faith, evangelization and pastoral services.
Also cited was educational opportunities and values formation together with family life and pastoral services to marginalized communities and the poor.
Further, priority would be afforded to socio-economic development and self-reliance, inter-religious harmony and Christian unity as well as enhancing religious vocations and services.
There would also be an emphasis on safeguarding the environment, civic rights' awareness and improving health services, advancing political engagement and the adopting of new technologies as well as use of the mass media.
The workshop drew about 200 participants, including all the archbishops and bishops of eight Catholic dioceses, and representatives of clergy, religious and laypeople along with social and political leaders from across Bangladesh.
The Church's pastoral priorities aimed to meet challenges of the times, said Holy Cross Archbishop Moses M. Costa of Chittagong, who was the president of organizing committee.
The announced priorities would be the Church's guiding light for the faithful to be emboldened through a sense of communion, he said.
The detailed pastoral guidelines would be distributed with a view to dioceses determining how to implement them, Archbishop Costa told ucanews.com.
Multi-faceted challenges could result in discord and disunity, he said, adding that great feats could be achieved if people work together.
Diocese-wide pastoral workshops would be held to consider the priorities, said Bishop James Romen Boiragi of Khulna in southern Bangladesh, which is vulnerable to climate change.
As well as the formation of communion, the resulting diocesan pastoral plan would seek to tackle adverse impacts of climate change, Bishop Boragi told ucanews.com.
Many Catholics see the pastoral plan as needed, but difficult to implement.
"Nowadays, faithful in many places are gradually distancing themselves from clergy and religious, largely because priests and religious are less interested in pastoral and family visits," Babli Talang, an ethnic Khasia Catholic woman from north-eastern Sylhet Diocese told ucanews.com.
"Also, church officials often fail to take up a strong stance on issues of justice and peace.
"Priests and religious need to be close to people in order to make the pastoral plan a reality."
While the issuing of pastoral priorities is seen as a positive thing, there are concerns that the Church has in the past been lacking in fulfilling them.
"Issues like migration, climate change, concern for the poor and indigenous communities are really important," said Kerubin Hembrom, an ethnic Santal Catholic from northern Dinajpur Diocese.
"My concern is church officials cannot fulfil them alone unless laypeople are strongly involved.
"In many places, people are not closely attached to the Church despite being members, so the Church has a lot to do to unite people and work for common good."
In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, with a population of 160 million, Christians account for less than a half percent or about 600,000 people.
The Catholic Church has about 350,000 members, from Bengali and indigenous ethnic groups, in eight Catholic dioceses.