ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka
Updated: April 25, 2017 06:25 AM GMT
Subash Jengcham, writer and researcher, and Maria Chiran, an educationist and women's rights activist, have both been awarded the highest honor that Pope Francis can bestow upon Catholics. (ucanews.com photo)
The Vatican has awarded two indigenous Garo Catholics in Bangladesh for a lifetime of contribution to society and the church.
Subash Jengcham, 74, a prominent writer and researcher, and Maria Chiran, 70, an educationist and women's rights activist, were awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For the Church and Pope), also known as the Cross of Honor, the highest honor the pope can bestow to Catholics for services to the church and society.
Both Jengcham and Chiran said they were humbled and overwhelmed by the honor.
"I don't know what made me worthy of this award or whether I deserve it but I accepted it as a blessing from God through the Holy Father. I'm not a social leader or development activist but I have tried to help the church in every possible way," Jengcham told ucanews.com.
Born in 1943, Subash Jengcham joined government services in 1969 and retired in 2000. For 22 years, he served as a member of the Integrated Community Development Project of Caritas Mymensingh, offering social awareness and legal assistance to grassroots communities.
During his work life and retirement, he researched the life and culture of Garo people and authored about a dozen books. He also penned articles for national dailies and magazines.
Chiran said she just tried to carry out her duties without expecting anything in return.
Chiran, 70, took up teaching in 1980. For over two decades, she served as the headteacher of church-run Corpus Christi High School in Jalchhatra in Tangail district and retired in 2010. She has been involved with various local and national women's rights groups, campaigning for the empowerment of indigenous women.
"The church has called me to take up teaching and I dedicated most of my life to education. I have also worked for rights of women. I feel proud when I find 85 percent of Garos are literate today and women are empowered. That's the biggest reward for me," she told ucanews.com.
Jengcham and Chiran are the third and the fourth laypeople in Bangladesh to receive the award after Benedict Alo D'Rozario and Gabriel Costa in 2016. Jengcham and Chiran are the first Bangladeshi indigenous Christians to receive the honor.
The award is a great honor for indigenous communities, especially for the Garo people, said Father Simon Haccha from Mymensingh Diocese.
"It shows the Holy Father has a great heart for recognizing the contributions of people no matter where they are from. This will infuse even more dedication and love in people for development and service to society and the church," Father Haccha, a Garo, told ucanews.com.
Apostolic nuncio Archbishop George Kocherry and Bishop Ponen Paul Kubi of the predominantly tribal Mymensingh Diocese, handed over the awards to Jengcham and Chiran at St. Patrick's Cathedral in northeastern Mymensingh town on April 21.
In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Christians make up less than half percent of the 160 million population. The majority of them are Catholics and nearly half hail from indigenous groups.