Father Marino Rigon speaks during the launch of a documentary film on his life and works, produced by a private TV channel in Dhaka, on Oct. 1, 2010. (ucanews.com photo)
Bangladeshis are mourning the death of an Italian-born missionary priest who played a role in the country’s independence struggle, not least by helping refugees.
Xaverian Father Marino Rigon, during more than six decades in the country, also promoted local literature and culture to outsiders. He also became known for selfless efforts to assist the poor.
Father Rigon died on Oct. 20 aged 92 at a hospital in Vicenza, Italy, where he was being treated for various ailments.
Born on Feb. 5, 1925 in Venice, he was ordained in 1951 and came to then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1953 as a missionary at St. Paul’s Church in Mongla, southern Khulna Diocese.
He was mostly based in the diocese, near Sundarbans mangrove forest, before returning to his native Italy in 2014 for medical treatment.
Father Jacob S. Biswas, vicar general of Khulna Diocese, told ucanews.com that Father Rigon aided the poor to become more self-reliant.
"He loved this country like any patriot Bengali," Father Biswas said.
"He was our guiding light and we are heavily shocked as his death is an irreparable loss for the church and the country."
Father Rigon set up about 50 schools and hostels in southern Bangladesh for poor children as well as sewing centers for unemployed rural women. He also promoted the rights of farmers and fishermen.
Hubert Sony Ratna, an official from Caritas Khulna, told ucanews.com that his wife studied at a school established by Father Rigon, one of many that made an "incredible" contribution to the lives of marginalized people.
During the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence from Pakistan, Father Rigon helped displaced war victims and local Bengali guerrilla fighters by providing food, shelter and emotional support.
Ratna added that he had an uncle who was among the "freedom fighters" assisted by Father Rigon.
During his long service in Bangladesh, Father Rigon translated about 40 Bengali books into Italian, including works by Rabindranath Tagore, a prominent Bengali poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.
He also translated the works of Jasimuddin, a popular folk poet, and the songs of Lalon Shah, a famous Bengali mystic singer, philosopher and social reformer.
Father Rigon received numerous awards and, in 2009, honorary Bangladeshi citizenship.
In 2012, he was awarded the Bangladesh Liberation War Honor and Friends of Liberation War Honor, two top civilian awards.
In 2010, he was the focus of an 40-minute documentary produced by a local TV channel.
Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury, a Muslim poet and a former secretary at the Ministry of Information, said during the launch of the film that Father Rigon had a deep love of Bangladeshi culture.
Father James Mondol, secretary of the Dialogue and Ecumenism commission in Khulna, said that following in Father Rigon’s footsteps would advance the goal of bringing harmony and peace to Bangladesh.