Youngsters attend the Lenten ecumenical retreat in Rajshahi Diocese on March 17. (Photo supplied)
Catholic and Protestant youngsters joined an ecumenical retreat during Lent in northern Bangladesh with an aim to foster unity among Christians of various churches.
About 100 young Christians, mostly college and university students, from six denominations joined the program in Rajshahi city jointly organized by Rajshahi Diocese and the Church of Bangladesh on March 17.
The program at Caritas Rajshahi aimed to promote ecumenism and spiritual bonding among young Christians ahead of Easter Sunday.
Church officials said the event focused on making young men and women more aware about the importance of prayer, fasting and the resurrection of Jesus.
“The main objective of this event was to give spiritual consciousness to the youth, to prepare them for the resurrection of Jesus and to explain the greatness of resurrection,” Father Patrick Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity and Inter-Religious Dialogue, told UCA News.
“We arranged it with the aim of uniting the youth of different churches and helping them to become more respectful to each other's religious principles. We have also wanted to make them more comfortable in the presence of each other.”
Catholics and Protestants are generally on good terms but sometimes fringe Christian groups who campaign aggressively draw new members, even from the Catholic Church, and create tensions and rifts among Christians, the priest said.
“There are doctrinal differences that infuse divisions, but ecumenical efforts like this can help us overcome all the differences,” Father Gomes said.
Samuel Baroi, 25, a Baptist Christian and a university student, said the program helped broaden his mind and he felt the importance of Christian unity.
“I used to think Catholics were very radical but this program changed my mind. I think this kind of program should be arranged frequently so that we know each other well and bring an end to our prejudices and differences,” Baroi told UCA News.
Pastor Daniel Mondol, head of Rajshahi Church of Bangladesh, said that unity and collaboration among Christians were essential for the survival and prosperity of Christians in the country.
“Sometimes we see ourselves as distinct groups detached from each other, which hinders unity and harmony. The more ecumenical programs we have, the more our differences will be abolished. Our future generation must be united and better connected to thrive on ecumenism,” he told UCA News.
Bangladesh's Christians are a tiny minority: less than half a percent of 160 million people in the Muslim-majority country. Of an estimated 600,000 Christians, the majority, about 400,000, are Catholics spread in two archdioceses and six dioceses.
There are two major coalitions of Protestant churches. The National Council of Churches in Bangladesh (NCCB) has 15 members while the National Fellowship of Churches, Bangladesh (NFCB) has 19 member churches.
Since the late 1960s, following the Second Vatican Council, the country’s bishops have promoted interreligious dialogue and ecumenism through the Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh and the Protestant fellowships in 2011 formed the United Forum of Churches in Bangladesh (UFCB), which draws representatives from all member associations.
The UFCB arranges ecumenical programs including dialogues, seminars and common religious feasts with an aim to promote unity.