Stephan Uttom, Natore
Updated: October 25, 2016 08:22 AM GMT
Gabriel Costa, 69, receives Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest papal award, on Oct. 23 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Natore district, Bangladesh. (Photo by ucanews.com)
The Vatican has conferred a prestigious award on a Bangladeshi Catholic in recognition of his extraordinary efforts to develop the church and society.
Gabriel Costa, 69, was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice ("for the Church and Pope"), also known as the Cross of Honor, the highest honor the pope can give to Catholics.
Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi gave Costa the award in front of about 500 parishioners attending Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in northern Natore district, Costa’s home parish, on Oct. 23.
Costa is the second layperson to be given the honor after Benedict Alo D’Rozario, who received the award on Aug. 19.
"Gabriel Costa has given extraordinary service to the church and society in Rajshahi and Dinajpur dioceses; although he is not nationally well-known he well deserved the award. He is the first among 65,000 Catholics in Rajshahi diocese to get this honor," Bishop Rozario told ucanews.com.
The bishop said the award is a sign of Pope Francis’ policy for the church to reach out to peripheral nations.
"In the past, we considered ourselves inferior to the universal church but things are changing. The church is no longer Europe or America-centric but focused on the peripheries," he said.
"The pope recently announced that he would visit Bangladesh, appointed the first ever cardinal from this country, and now our layperson has been given the highest papal award. These are signs of great changes in the church and recognition of the faith and service given by small communities like ours," he said.
Gabriel Costa, 69, receives Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest papal award, on Oct. 23 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Natore district, Bangladesh. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)
Costa felt exalted when he received the award.
"I have no words to explain my delight, although I don’t know why I was given this award. I am a simple man and tried to accomplish my duties honestly and sincerely without expecting anything in return," Costa told ucanews.com.
"Maybe my works and services have done some good but I could do nothing if I didn’t have God with me all my life; this award is yet another blessing from God," he added.
Gourpada Mondol, a Hindu and former headmaster of St. Joseph’s High School, where Costa taught English for over 15 years, praised his former colleague's lifelong service.
"For years I have known Gabriel Costa as an honest and dedicated man who has made great contributions to Christians and non-Christians alike. He continued serving the church and people even after retirement and during sickness," Mondol told ucanews.com.
"There people like Gabriel Costa who are working tirelessly in various corners of the country and the church needs to recognize them and promote them as examples," he added.
Costa is highly regarded as a pioneering lay leader in education, social development and cooperative activism in northern Bangladesh.
He started his career as an English teacher in 1969. Costa later worked as the secretary and superintendent of schools, served as regional director of Caritas Rajshahi and chaired three credit unions.