Indigenous Christians go to different churches but many turn to the Catholic faith impressed by its spiritual care
Kaushik Hembrom lost his job as a computer operator with an insurance company in Bogura city of northern Bangladesh due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 35-year-old Pentecostal Christian was forced to return to his native village Dighalchan in neighboring Dinajpur district where he spent more than a year confined to his house without any spiritual assistance.
He would watch his Catholic neighbors attend their parish church and receive pastoral care from priests throughout the protracted lockdown. But he and his family members had no church or prayer meeting to attend in the locality.
“The Covid-19 pandemic opened my eyes. When we were in the village for about 18 months, we did not receive any kind of religious service because there is no church in our area. And that's when I decided to join the Catholic Church,” Hembrom, an ethnic Mahali, told UCA News.
Hembrom approached the parish priest of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Dhanjuri under Dinajpur Diocese and expressed his desire to join the Catholic Church.
It is common in Dinajpur, a tribal-dominated diocese for non-Catholic Christians, particularly indigenous Pentecostal and Protestant Christians, to join the Catholic Church, said Father Marcus Murmu, the diocesan chancellor.
“Indigenous Christians go to different churches but many, like Hembrom, return to the Catholic faith due to lack of spiritual care,” the priest said.
Every year the diocese conducts some 1,000 baptisms, of which 40 percent are adult baptisms, Father Murmu said.
Kaushik Hembrom (extreme left) with his colleagues and friends. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)
Each parish runs a catechumen program starting during Lent and ending with baptism during the Easter season. Sometimes religious education or training lasts for two or three months before a person is initiated into a parish. Such long training helps to make sure the person’s intention is spiritual and not aimed at material benefits, the diocesan official said.
Sometimes parishes also run catechumen programs during the Advent season and adult baptisms are conducted shortly before Christmas.
Five members of the Hembrom family — Kaushik, his parents and two younger siblings — are getting ready to be baptized during the Holy Saturday service on April 16.
Hembrom’s ethnic Mahali family have been members of the Church of God. His elder sister joined the Baptist Church of her husband after their marriage. His mother grew up in a Catholic family but became a Pentecostal after marriage.
“Although we join Sunday Mass, we cannot receive communion. Moreover, if I or my father dies now, we will die without communion; our souls will not get eternal peace"
Besides learning catechism, Hembrom and other family members regularly attend Sunday Mass in the Catholic parish and try to assimilate the parish's community life.
“Although we join Sunday Mass, we cannot receive communion. Moreover, if I or my father dies now, we will die without communion; our souls will not get eternal peace. That’s why I want to become Catholic at the earliest,” said Hembrom, who holds a master’s degree in journalism.
He wanted to become a television journalist but currently works as a receptionist at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Bogura district.
Hembrom said he and his father canceled their family’s membership with the Church of God and applied to join the Catholic Church. The parish priest himself took permission from the parish council, a local church body composed of the parish priest and local Catholics.
“I’m now very happy because I will have full participation in Sunday Mass with communion from Easter Sunday,” he said.
Kaushik Hembrom prays before a statue of Our Lady as he prepares to get baptized. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)
Hembrom’s elder sister Sumona Hembrom said the family were in “complete agreement” about joining the Catholic Church.
“Since our mother was a member of the Catholic Church, we have a very good idea about the faith. Now it is good that my brothers and parents are joining the Catholic Church. But since my husband's family is Baptist, I can't go to Catholic Church despite my desire,” Sumona told UCA News.
Hubert Marandy, a member of the Church of God and friend, said Hembrom was “an active member” of the Pentecostal Church.
“We did a lot of work together. Hembrom was the youth coordinator in our Church but now he wants to be a Catholic. I have no problem with that because he is still a Christian worshiping the same Jesus,” Marandy told UCA News.
“There is no shortage of Christian denominations in Bangladesh. But the Catholic Church is the Mother Church and is very strong in terms of community life and discipline. So, I think Hembrom’s decision is right.”
“Catholic society is very united and since we are a minority, it is important to be united with a community. This is another reason why I came to the Catholic Church”
Hembrom feels Catholics are pretty good at taking care of their spiritual development compared with non-Catholics.
“In Pentecostal churches, local leaders become the main figures. The Catholic Church is not centered on individuals, but the community is important,” he said.
“Catholic society is very united and since we are a minority, it is important to be united with a community. This is another reason why I came to the Catholic Church.”
According to the Catholic Directory of Bangladesh 2019, Dinajpur Diocese has some 18 million people, of whom Catholics number just about 62,000, mostly from ethnic indigenous groups.
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