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Bangladesh's Catholic weekly turns 75

Magazine's still going strong, but not without challenges

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Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Bangladesh's Catholic weekly turns 75

'This magazine is a refreshing source of Christian ideology and spiritual nourishment for many people like me,' says Promila Corraya, 43, who has been a reader of Pratibeshi, Bangladesh's sole national Catholic weekly, for more than three decades. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

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For the past 31 years, Promila Corraya has been a regular subscriber and reader of Pratibeshi, Bangladesh's sole national Catholic weekly magazine, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Corraya first came across Bengali-language Pratibeshi (Neighbor) at a church-run school in Bonpara, northwestern Natore district.

"Our religion teacher used to read us stories and articles from Pratibeshi and I found them very interesting and encouraging. They enriched me spiritually and provided me with much-needed moral formation," says Corraya, 43, a Bengali language teacher at the church-run SFX Greenherald International School in Dhaka.

"Even today, this magazine is a refreshing source of Christian ideology and spiritual nourishment for many people like me," says Corraya, a parishioner of Mary Queen of Apostles Church at Mirpur, northern Dhaka.

Corraya has also written articles on morality and contemporary issues for the weekly since 2002.

Prominent writer Khokon Corraya credits Pratibeshi as the reason why he became a poet and short-story writer.

"For the past 41 years I have been a regular reader and writer for Pratibeshi. It has helped quench my thirst for spiritual, moral and church teachings, and helped me become a writer," says Corraya, 57, who is not related to Promila.

"It is really extraordinary to see a weekly magazine surviving 75 years, which is rare for any publication in this country," adds Corraya, a parishioner of Holy Rosary Church at Tejgaon, central Dhaka.

The weekly is very popular among Catholics in rural areas.

"Collecting Pratibeshi from the church after Sunday Mass is part of my weekly routine," says Antonia Costa, 65, a widow who attends Sacred Heart Church in Gazipur district near Dhaka. "The articles in the weekly are great source of catechism, morality and knowledge for many rural Catholics like me," says Costa.   

  

Watch this ucanews.com video for some of the jubilee celebrations held at Bottomley Girls High School in Tejgaon, central Dhaka, April 1.

 

Nuns and priests such as Father Samson Marandy, have received inspiration and encouragement by having an association with Pratibeshi.

"Through Pratibeshi, I can get connected with the local and universal church as well," says Father Marandy, parish priest of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in northern Dinajpur.

"Besides spiritual, moral and catechism lessons, I also find pleasure through literary items and information on various contemporary issues and events," says Father Marandy.

Sister Mary Margaret, from the Associates of Mary, Queen of Apostles, says the weekly has been a must-read for her since childhood.

"Still today, I get upset if it reaches me late," says the nun, an English language teacher at a Catholic school in Savar, near Dhaka. "The articles on spirituality and morality are my favorites."

 

Humble beginnings

Back in 1941, Holy Cross Father Richard Duane Patrick started Ranikhong Mission Chithi (Letter), a monthly parish bulletin for circulation at St. Joseph's Church in Ranikhong, part of present-day northeastern Mymensingh Diocese near the Indian border.

The purpose of the bulletin was to help forge a strong connection between the church and laypeople.

In 1942, the bulletin was renamed Catholic Mission Potrika and in 1944, the printing press was moved to Dhaka from Mymensingh. In 1947, it took the current name Pratibeshi and in 1960 it became a weekly publication.

Today, Pratibeshi prints about 8,000 copies every Sunday, which are distributed among subscribers in 98 Catholic parishes across the country. The magazine also is mailed to Bangladeshi Christian subscribers in 35 countries around the world.

"It had a humble beginning, like a small seed. Now, it has grown and spread branches in many countries around the globe. This is a legacy of effort and love from the church leadership and it will live as long as the church lives," said Father Joyanto S. Gomes, the current editor and publisher.

The paper is a member of Signis, the World Catholic Association for Communication, and is run by the Christian Communications Center, a concern of the Catholic Bishops' Social Communication Commission.

The magazine publishes articles on spirituality, morality, teachings of the Catholic Church and contemporary social, economic and political issues with a Catholic perspective.

It publishes statements by Catholic bishops and messages from the pope during various national, international and church events. It also publishes news and information on local and universal churches.

In addition, the magazine also has a literature section, which publishes articles, stories and poems from amateur and prominent writers.

In October 2013, the weekly launched its online version.

Annually, Pratibeshi charges a 300 Taka ($3.80) subscription fee from local readers, while the online version is free.
 

Father Joyanto S. Gomes, editor and publisher of Pratibeshi, aims to see the magazine become self reliant in future. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

 

Criticism

Despite the magazine's notable contributions to the Christian community in providing spiritual and moral formation, the magazine has its critics.

Prominent Christians allege the magazine fails to take a stance on important social, economic and political issues. It is also blamed for not promoting creative and intellectual arts, especially writings as it did in the past.

"Today, Pratibeshi is very much centered on the church, and it does little to contribute creating awareness and form public opinion on issues of national public interests," says William A. Kuluntunu, a Catholic who is the additional secretary at the Ministry of Public Administration.

"Sometimes, people from other communities ask why there is no prominent Christian writer or novelist in the country and we feel ashamed. Pratibeshi was supposed to play a leading role in promoting writers who could become a life force in society, but it's not happening today," he adds.

Any shortcomings in taking a strong stance on public interest issues is not because of fear or editorial policy but for a lack of resources, says Benedict Alo D'Rozario, a member of the Pratibeshi editorial board.

"There is a scarcity of competent writers who write on important issues such as the rights of garment sector workers or human rights violations against indigenous peoples. Pratibeshi does not have the financial ability to keep brave and competent writers," said D'Rozario.

He also pointed out that because it is a weekly publication, many national issues become stale to readers who can easily get news and information from the internet or national dailies.

"These issues are often highlighted in editorials and columns, to keep people informed about the church's stance on such matters," he adds.  

Bangladesh's only national Catholic magazine Weekly Pratibeshi is being printed in the press of Christian Communications Center in the old part of Dhaka, March 17. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

 

Financial challenges

From the beginning, the magazine has run on subsidies from local bishops and foreign donors. About 50 percent of annual publication costs is derived from subsidies.

In recent times, the magazine has tried to overcome its financial challenges by selling advertising space and increasing its subscription fees. However, until now Pratibeshi doesn't pay writers for their published content.

"The most serious challenge we have is financial, largely because it's a religious magazine with a limited number of subscribers," says Father Gomes, the editor.

"In future, we would like to see Pratibeshi become self sufficient and able to pay writers. To do so, we need more support from the Christian community," says the priest.

Despite all the challenges, Pratibeshi will continue preaching the church's message, says Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of Catholic Bishops' Social Communication Commission.

"We are passing through hard times but we hope to move forward to better days. Pratibeshi will continue to enrich lives of people with it's mission and vision, and people will continue to love and support it in the days to come," says Bishop Rozario.

 

Indian Archbishop George Kocherry, Vatican nuncio to Bangladesh, left, joins Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshah as Archbishop Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka formally releases  book of poems that had been published in Pratibeshi, Bangladesh's sole Catholic weekly during the celebration of the magazine's 75th anniversary on April 1 at Tejgaon, Dhaka. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

 

Festive occasions

The Christian Communications Center arranged a three-phase celebration to mark the magazine's 75th anniversary.

On Nov. 27 about 700 Catholics, two bishops and 40 priests attended a celebration at Ranikhong, the birthplace of the weekly. The event was marked with a special Mass, cultural program and the unveiling of an anniversary logo.

The second phase on Jan. 23 was marked with a half-day gathering for some 70 readers, writers, commentators and diocesan representatives at the Christian Communications Center in the old part of Dhaka.

The final phase was a gathering held on April 1, at the church-run Bottomley Girls High School in Tejgaon, central Dhaka, which attracted thousands of Christians and non-Christians.

Bishops from eight dioceses and special guests, including government ministers and prominent Christian and select non-Christian dignitaries, attended the daylong program, which included prayers, a cultural program and a raffle.

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