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Bangladesh

Bangladeshi Christians seek to improve ecumenical unity

Christian Unity Octave program aims to strengthen bonds among the various denominations

Bangladeshi Christians seek to improve ecumenical unity

An ecumenical prayer meeting is held at the Church of Bangladesh in Rajshahi city in which 30 Catholic and Protestant leaders participated on Jan. 18. (Photo supplied)

Catholics and Protestants have been attending prayer meetings and dialogue programs in Bangladesh to strengthen unity among members of various churches during Christian Unity Octave from Jan. 18-25.

Bangladesh’s eight Catholic archdioceses and dioceses have arranged ecumenical prayers and discussions with Protestant bodies acros the country.

On Jan. 18, an ecumenical prayer meeting was held in Rajshahi city with about 30 Catholic and Protestant leaders.

Rev. Daniel Mondol, head pastor of the Church of Bangladesh in Rajshahi, applauded the initiative and hoped it could be a benchmark to facilitate unity among Christian denominations.

“Generally, we have good relations and bonds among all Christian denominations in Bangladesh, but sometimes in some places we have clashes over interests. We are working on those issues to create better relations,” Mondol told UCA News.

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Issues like interchurch marriages, egotism and superior-inferior mentality sometimes cause division and disunity among Christians, he said.

“Observing Christian Unity Octave together is a great initiative, but it should not be a one-time affair but must continue throughout the year. I appeal to all churches to move ahead in this regard,” Rev. Mondol added.

The pandemic has curtailed initiatives for Unity Octave, said Father Leonard C. Rebeiro, administrator of Chittagong Archdiocese in southeastern Bangladesh.

“This year we will arrange a program for Unity Octave on a limited scale. We will hold an ecumenical gathering and prayer meeting with leaders and representatives from all denominations in the area participating,” Father Rebeiro told UCA News.

Unity and collaboration among Christians are crucial for the minority community in the Muslim-majority country, the priest said.

“All Christian denominations are living in peace and harmony, but there must more collaboration among them. They need to have more dialogue and exchange of spiritual and pastoral ideas and actions, so people of other faiths can realize we all are disciples of the same Christ,” Father Rebeiro added.

Apart from doctrinal differences, there are some significant issues prevailing in both Catholic and Protestant denominations that create barriers to Christian unity in Bangladesh, said a senior Catholic official on condition of anonymity.

“It is true Catholics often consider themselves superior to Protestants. On the other hand, Protestants mock Catholics as idol worshippers as they use statues of religious figures. Both Catholics and Protestants attempt to defy church norms of each other during interchurch marriages. Also, confusion and unease trigger when evangelical preachers target poor and uneducated Catholics. The Catholic Church is actively working to remove these barriers through interchurch programs and dialogue,” the priest told UCA News.  

For Unity Octave, the Catholic Church has translated into Bengali a prayer booklet jointly prepared by the Vatican and the World Council of Churches, which has been delivered to churches across the country to be used during this period.  

Muslims account for 90 percent of Bangladesh's population of more than 160 million. Hindus make up the largest minority group at about 8 percent and the remainder belong to other faiths including Buddhism and Christianity.

Christians, the majority of them Catholics, make up less than half percent or an estimated 600,000, according to church sources. 

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