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Bangladesh

Bangladesh's rural Catholics remain steadfast in their faith

There is no lack of devotion among them despite the hardships imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic

Bangladesh's rural Catholics remain steadfast in their faith

A woman lights a candle in front of the Marian grotto at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Baniarchar of Gopalgonj district. (Photo: Stephan Uttom)

The Boiddya family of Kaligram village can only be reached by a three-kilometer dirt road lined with paddy fields on one side and a ditch on the other.

Seventy-one-year-old Nityananda Boiddya, a father of four, still sells fish in the market for a livelihood. The coronavirus pandemic has taught him some tough lessons in life.

Survival became really hard but this has had no effect on his faith in Christ. Boiddya continues to pray regularly.

“Lacking money, I often ate only rice without curry but regularly joined in the daily prayers and Sunday Mass,” he said. “Three of my two sons and two daughters are working in the village. My wife and I live at home.”

Tears welled up in his eyes as he narrated how he was compelled to earn a living in his old age by selling fish in the market.

The Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Baniarchar, a village in Bangladesh’s Gopalganj district, has some 3,000 Catholics who coexist with their Hindu and Muslim neighbors. Most are farmers and daily wage earners who also catch fish, having no other means to support themselves.

In the midst of such adversity, we did not forget God for his kindness to us and for saving us. As a child of God, I cannot forget my Father

On days when his physical condition is good, Boiddya walks about five kilometers from home in the morning and buys fish from the wholesale market and sells it in the local market, which earns him about 300 taka (US$3.50) per day. He grows paddy, around 400 kilograms annually, on his land. 

He couldn’t sell his produce with the markets remaining closed during the pandemic, so he had to rely on help from his sons and daughters and the aid extended by Caritas.

Caritas Bangladesh and the government provided food worth 2,500 taka (about $30) as assistance to needy families.

Boiddya was wearing a blue shirt and the traditional Bangla lungi as he sat talking inside his windowless, one-room house. The shirt, he said, was gifted by someone three years back, and it was the best one he had.

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“Things are a bit better now, but I had to suffer a lot during the pandemic. In the midst of such adversity, we did not forget God for his kindness to us and for saving us. As a child of God, I cannot forget my Father,” he said.

Kaligram village is about 50 kilometers from Gopalganj district town. The village has a river on one side and a reservoir on the other. But with fish no longer available, the locals are shifting to day labor or small businesses.

Like Boiddya, Premananda Halder lives in a tiny tin house with his wife and nine-year-old son.  He is the assistant headmaster of St. Michael’s Junior School with a monthly salary of only 5,000 taka.

“We earn meager salaries, so many teachers depend on private tuition. The extra income that I used to earn by imparting tuition stopped during the pandemic. As a result, I had to face many difficulties,” Halder recalled.

We used to hear the Mass and pray at home. There was no lack of devotion among the people of the village

Their only hope for some solace was prayers but the church was closed due to the strict Covid-19 measures. However, priests used to offer Mass on the public address system.

“We used to hear the Mass and pray at home. There was no lack of devotion among the people of the village,” Halder told UCA News.

In fact, he felt the pandemic had increased the enthusiasm for prayer and devotion among the village’s Christians belonging to different denominations but living in the vicinity of the Catholic church.

Father Gemain Sanchay Gomes, the parish priest, said many people lost their jobs or suffered losses in business but opened a new chapter in religious devotion, at least in his area. “The people are thankful to God for saving them from the plague that devastated their nation,” he said.

Bangladesh has recorded about 27,900 deaths and 1.57 million Covid-19 infections, according to health officials.

Boiddya and his fellow villagers are thankful to the Creator that they are not dead and will continue to worship God as long as they are alive.

Nityananda Boiddya, 71, has to sell fish in the market to make a living. (Photo: Stephan Uttom)

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