An extremely polluted canal in Dhaka. Bangladeshi Catholics plan to clean up their village, including saving two canals from pollution, during the Lenten season. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Taking cues from Pope Francis’ famed encyclical on the environment, Laudato si', Catholics in Gazipur district of central Bangladesh plan to restore and conserve the environment, including cleaning up two dirty and polluted canals during Lent.
Catholic villagers from Holy Family Catholic Church at Doripara under Dhaka Archdiocese have paired up with the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission (ECJP) to implement the “Work for Clean Village” scheme starting from Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Church’s Lenten season, which falls on Feb. 26.
Holy Family Church has about 3,500 Catholics living in one large village divided into four blocks.
The clean-up plan stems from the unbearable environmental pollution that poses great risks to human health, local leaders say.
The village is crisscrossed by two canals which have turned into an extremely polluted and stinking open sewer due to years of being contaminated by domestic garbage including human waste from toilets.
“It’s about 20 years since the canals became lifeless due to pollution. Today they are nothing but open sewers full of waste and producing an extremely bad stench. Moreover, people have thrown plastic items that block the water flow. We must recover the canals and change our bad habits, or we’ll have to pay a heavy price for pollution soon,” Swapan Stephen Rozario, a parish councilor for Holy Family Church, told UCA News.
Besides restoring canals, villagers will have to start effective waste management instead of dumping in the canals and take up tree plantation and kitchen gardening to improve the environment in their homestead, Rozario said.
“We hope the environment in the village will get better in the coming days and the message will spread across the country. People need to realize that if we protect the environment, our next generation will have a safer place to grow up,” he added.
Every Friday during Lent, Catholics will take part in a “Way of the Cross with Nature” event to contemplate the need for environmental conservation and what they need to do, said ECJP secretary Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, who also hails from the village.
“People will have to make a pledge not to throw waste into the canals anymore. Every family should have effective waste management, including cleaning up their houses and burning plastics. Also, they need to vow not to set up poultry farms in their houses for the sake of the environment,” Father Gomes told UCA News.
Every house has to set up sceptic tanks for toilets within one year, and those who do not have the money will be able to get low-interest loans from local Christian cooperatives.
Shopkeepers in the local market will be supplied with bags made from jute and cloth instead of polythene, vehicles that pollute the environment will be restricted, and schoolchildren will be made aware of the environment through art competitions.
“We would like to make it a creative, effective and ongoing movement to save the environment in Bangladesh. Success in this village will encourage us to replicate it in many other places in the country,” Father Gomes added.
In Bangladesh, environmental pollution, especially air and water pollution, are routinely termed “silent killers” by environmentalists.
In 2015, more than 234,000 people died from diseases caused by various forms of environmental pollution, according to a 2018 World Bank report.