Jeffrey S. Pereira was executive director of Caritas Bangladesh for 23 years from 1976 until his retirement in 1999. (Photo supplied)
People from all faiths and ethnicities are mourning the death of the first Catholic layman to lead Caritas Bangladesh.
Jeffrey S. Pereira died at church-run St. John Vianney Hospital in capital Dhaka on Dec. 13 at the age of 85. He had been suffering from heart problems and other age-related ailments.
His body was kept on Dec. 13 at Caritas Bangladesh central office in Dhaka where church leaders including Archbishop Bejoy N. D’Cruze of Dhaka, Caritas staff, his former colleagues, politicians and representatives from leading development agencies paid their tributes.
He was buried at the Christian cemetery at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral Church following a funeral Mass and public homage on Dec. 14.
Born in Chittagong city in 1935, he started his career as a teacher at church-run St. Placid’s High School.
Pereira, who is survived by his wife and three children, served as regional director of Caritas´ Chittagong office from 1972-73 and as program director of Caritas Bangladesh from 1974-76 before being appointed its executive director in 1976. He held the post until his retirement in 1999.
He was a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace and a pioneer member of the Asia Partnership for Human Development.
On his retirement in 1999, Pereira was awarded the Benemerenti Medal, a papal award for exceptional services.
He has been hailed for playing a seminal role in guiding and strengthening Caritas organizationally and expanding its development outreach across Bangladesh.
Ronjan Francis Rozario, current executive director of Caritas Bangladesh, expressed grief over Pereira’s death and paid homage to him as a development pioneer and leader.
“He was the first Bengali lay Catholic to take charge of Caritas and he proved that laypeople could also accomplish great deeds for the Church. Under his leadership, Caritas led the country's NGO sector and reached the heights of success. He was a wise man and an eloquent speaker who could present arguments strongly and logically,” Rozario said.
Rasheda K. Chowdhury, a prominent educationist and executive director of the Campaign for Popular Education, also mourned his death.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of one of the founding members of the Campaign for Popular Education and the former executive director of Caritas Bangladesh. His death is an irreparable loss,” Chowdhury, a Muslim, said in her condolence message.
“The work he has done for the underprivileged with his talent, labor, dedication and wisdom in achieving Caritas' goals will be a beacon for the new generation. His pragmatic and empirical guidance has always inspired us.”