Taize Brother Guillaume de Wolf receives a royal honor from Dutch ambassador Harry Verweij at the Armenian Apostolic Church of Holy Resurrection in Dhaka on Oct. 9. (Photo: Bangladesh Armenian Church)
A Dutch religious brother from the ecumenical Taize community has received a top award from King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands for his more than four decades of tireless service for the poor in Bangladesh.
Taize Brother Guillaume de Wolf was accorded the royal honor of membership of the Order of Oranje-Nassau, a civil and military Dutch order of chivalry founded on April 4, 1892, to honor people for long-standing meritorious service to society, the state or the Royal House of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Popularly known as Brother Giom, Brother Guillaume, 74, is one of the three Taize brothers in Bangladesh, where he has been based since 1976.
The honor was announced on April 27, the national day of the Netherlands, but the award ceremony was delayed due to Covid-19.
On Oct. 9, Harry Verweij, the Dutch ambassador to Bangladesh, conferred the award, a badge with blue and white-enameled bordered Maltese Cross, to Brother Giom at the historic Armenian Apostolic Church of Holy Resurrection in Dhaka.
“Brother Giom has been working for poor people as well as the Garo community for many years. Now he has been awarded the royal honor from the king of the Netherlands. It was matter of great honor for Brother Giom and for us here in Bangladesh,” Sanjeeb Drong, a Garo Catholic and social activist, said after attending the event.
“Brother Giom has served poor people as well as street children, disabled people and ethnic indigenous people for more than four decades. He has been honored as a humanist, a great lover of humanity.
“His life is a great example and inspiration that true humanists don’t work for recognition or awards, but only because they love people. This has always been the motto of Brother Giom throughout his life. He is a man of simplicity but he has accomplished great deeds for the people.”
Touched and honored
Born in 1946, Guillaume de Wolf became a Taize brother in France in 1970. Since 1976, he has been in Bangladesh with his community, serving poor people, street children, ethnic and religious minorities and prisoners as well as promoting interfaith and inter-church harmony.
“I was very touched and very happy that the Dutch ambassador has chosen me for this honor. I am thankful to some people here who know me and provided information to the ambassador to get me the award,” Brother Guillaume told UCA News.
There have been positive changes in terms of interfaith and inter-church harmony in the past years in the country, he noted.
“Churches are much closer than before. There is a lot of progress I will say. Now, interreligious dialogue it is still in the initial stage. The most important thing is to work together — Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. If you work together, then slowly it will be opened up. So, working together is more important than intellectual dialogue,” he said.
Bangladesh’s poor, ethnic and religious minorities still face many challenges, Brother Guillaume pointed out.
“There are many poor people in the country even though in general Bangladesh is moving up slowly economically. Being poor means that you don’t have access not only to money but to justice also. We have been carrying out prison ministry and visiting jails. We have helped many people get out of jail and get justice,” he said.
Bangladesh is culturally a very rich country. Educated and intellectual people recognize this beauty of different cultures, but many people are not interested in that diversity, he said.
“For indigenous communities, which are small and live in various areas, it is very difficult to survive, and often they are robbed off their land. Small groups need a lot of courage to survive. I always tell them to adopt a fighting spirit, don’t give up and don’t leave Bangladesh, because Bangladesh needs you and Bangladesh needs diversity,” he added.
Taize and Bangladesh community
Taize is an ecumenical Christian monastic fraternity set up in Taize, France, in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz, a reformed Protestant. There are hundreds of Taize brothers from Catholic and Protestant churches serving across the globe.
The community is known worldwide for its simple lifestyle, prayers, reflections, Bible study, sharing, pilgrimages and services to humanity including poor people, street children and the disabled.
Taize brothers arrived in Bangladesh in 1974. Initially they were based in Chittagong and moved to capital Dhaka. Since 1987, they have been based in Mymensingh, central Bangladesh.
Taize brothers run schools for poor children and support their studies. They organize prayer and reflection meetings in various parts of the country for young and adults alike.
They also have a community center to support disabled people and have pioneered pilgrimages for the disabled and mentally challenged persons.