Archbishop Bejoy N. D’Cruze of Dhaka Catholic Archdiocese incenses a statue of St. Joseph during the solemnity of the saint at St. Joseph’s Church in Solepur, Munshiganj district on March 19. (Photo: Supplied)
Anjoli Palma cheered up last Friday when Church officials declared her parish near the capital Dhaka a pilgrimage site, a special gift for local Catholics in the Year of Saint Joseph.
“I am very happy to know that our parish is now a pilgrimage site. Every year, people from the parish flock to attend the feast of St. Anthony of Padua and Mother Mary in other parishes, but they don’t know much about St. Joseph. We need to know about him more and show more devotion to him,” Anjoli, 37, a housewife and mother of one, told UCA News.
Her St. Joseph’s church in Savar is about 25 kilometers north of Dhaka. Started in 1926, it has more than 6,000 Catholics.
Like most Bangladeshi Christians, local Catholics only know St. Joseph as the adoptive father of Jesus and a carpenter, Anjoli said.
“Things will be different this year. There will be yearlong prayers and activities on the life of St. Joseph. The feast day (May 1) will be a great celebration following nine days of the novena. All these will help us to know more about the great life of St. Joseph and strengthen our devotion to him,” she added.
On March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Oblate Archbishop Bejoy N. D’Cruze of Dhaka Archdiocese designated two parishes dedicated to St. Joseph as pilgrimage sites — one in Savar and other Solepur in Munshiganj district.
Archbishop D’Cruze, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB), presided over a special Mass at St. Joseph’s church in Solepur and the prelate declared the official start of the Year of St. Joseph in Bangladesh.
Pope Francis has declared 2021 the Year of St. Joseph to mark the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church. The pope issued an apostolic letter, Patris Corde (With A Father’s Heart), last December dedicating Dec. 8, 2020-Dec. 8, 2021 to St. Joseph.
Archbishop D’Cruze urged Catholics in Bangladesh to visit the newly-designated pilgrimage sites to emulate St. Joseph in order to become better Christians.
“I invite you all...to know more about St. Joseph, offer him a better place in our hearts and thus, we can become better Christians. Come and visit the pilgrimage sites to get blessings from God through the intercession of St Joseph,” Archbishop D’Cruze said.
Some 700,000 Christians in Bangladesh, the majority of them Catholics, are a small minority accounting for less than half percent of more than 160 million people in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.
There are 10 Catholic parishes and various Church-run institutions are named after St. Joseph in two archdioceses and six dioceses of the country. However, devotion to St. Joseph among local Catholics has not been as strong as compared to popular piety toward St. Anthony of Padua and Blessed Mother Mary.
Every year, thousands of Catholics flock to shrines dedicated to Blessed Mother Mary and St. Anthony to seek blessings, whereas the feast of St. Joseph is celebrated mostly within parishes and institutions named after the saint.
In the Year of St. Joseph, Church officials are aiming to change the scenario with various programs and activities.
In the northern Rajshahi Diocese, two parishes and some institutions are dedicated to St. Joseph. The diocese has taken the initiative to popularize devotion to the saint by organizing seminars and prayer meetings in every parish and in the house of religious orders during the year, Church officials said.
Father Patrick Gomes, a senior priest of Rajshahi, said the diocese is planning to designate a parish as a pilgrimage site soon.
The priest noted that other saints are not much popular in Bangladesh due to a lack of promotion.
“Traditionally, Christians of Bangladesh have incredible devotion to St. Anthony and Mother Mary. The reason behind it is that devotion to them were patronized and promoted but it lacked for other saints. The Holy Father has provided us an opportunity to promote Saint Joseph,” Father Gomes told UCA News.
“Hopefully and gradually, we will know the biographies of other saints and increase our devotion and respect towards them too,” the priest added.
Manik Willver D’Costa, pastoral Coordinator of Chattogram Archdiocese in southeast Bangladesh, said the local Church has undertaken programs to promote devotion to St. Joseph during the special year.
“Our archdiocese has one parish and two sub-parishes named after St. Joseph. The feasts of St. Joseph were celebrated mainly by local Catholics in previous years, but this year the whole Church will celebrate it together. We would like to prioritize the great roles of St. Joseph, who was a silent but dedicated worker and made great contributions to the life of Jesus Christ and the Church,” D’Costa told UCA News.
Apart from prayers and seminars, the archdiocese will honor and recognize ordinary laypeople for their long, dedicated and wonderful contributions to society and the Church, he said.