A priest celebrates Palm Sunday Mass with only one nun and no congregation at a Catholic church in Dhaka on April 5 during the nationwide coronavirus shutdown. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Every year, priests serving at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in central Dhaka remain extremely busy preparing for liturgies during the Holy Week leading to Easter Sunday.
It is Bangladesh's largest Catholic parish in terms of population and is served by four priests. Officially, the parish has slightly more than 10,000 resident Catholics, but the number is believed to be double when the large number of migrant Catholics living within its jurisdiction are counted.
The church receives many donations from local Catholics all year round. They reach a peak during religious feasts such as Christmas and Easter when thousands of the faithful attend liturgies in the church.
After spending for administration, programs and activities, a portion of the donations is shared with dozens of poor Christian families living within parish areas so that they can celebrate the feasts.
This year, due to the nationwide shutdown over the deadly Covid-19 outbreak, Holy Rosary Church has been forced to lock its doors to public liturgies and thus a slump in donations was expected, with the poor thought to be left out as a result. However, this has not happened as Catholics have continued to dig deep.
“We are receiving donations from parishioners continuously — people come to us to make donations and we are also going to them to collect donations. The church depends on donations for survival and does all its charity work with donations,” Father Subrato B. Gomes, the parish priest, told UCA News.
During Christmas and Easter, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a church-affiliated charitable association, takes the initiative to collect donations and support poor people, but this year the parish council has taken the lead.
This year 130 poor families were targeted for cash handouts of 3,000 taka (US$35), not only because of Easter but also because they have lost work and income due to the coronavirus outbreak, Father Gomes said.
“We are coordinating the collection of donations and distribution to the poor based on a list, but as not all people on the list have contact numbers, about 70 families might be reached. But we are supporting anyone coming to us for donations almost every day,” the priest added.
Various parishes in Bangladesh's two archdioceses and six dioceses have launched individual and organizational initiatives to collect donations and help the needy in their areas during the Covid-19 crisis, church sources said.
Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, archbishop of Dhaka, has taken the initiative to raise a special fund with donations from churches, religious orders, church-run organizations and Christian cooperatives. The fund will be used to support poor people during the contagion.
Catholics in parishes in Chittagong Archdiocese have been donating money to help poor people during the protracted crisis, said James Gomes, coordinator of the church’s desk for professionals.
In Dinajpur Diocese, churches are doing whatever they can to support those in need, said Father Anthony Sen, parish priest of Queen of Fatima Catholic Church at Ruhea in Thakurgaon district.
“Almost all year round people come to churches to get donations because there are many poor people, and during the coronavirus crisis church and church-run institutions are trying to help people as much as they can,” Father Sen told UCA News.
Missionaries of Charity nuns in Thakurgaon used to offer donations to dozens of local poor people, but this has been suspended due to the nationwide shutdown, the priest said. The parish donated large amounts of vegetables cultivated on church agricultural land to poor people this week.
An inability to collect donations during Holy Week and Easter, as well as a possible drying up of funding sources overseas due to the pandemic in rich Christian nations, will have a severe economic impact on church activities in the coming days, Father Sen said.
“Most churches don’t have properties and don’t have a steady income, so occasional donations and foreign funding are important. The coronavirus outbreak will have a long-term impact on church activities and services, especially those for poor and marginalized communities,” the priest added.
Covid-19 has infected nearly 1.5 million people and killed more than 88,000 globally, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the deadly virus has infected 218 and killed 20 people.