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Priest's book examines history of Christianity in Bangladesh

Father Costa's book covers five centuries since the arrival of Portuguese Catholic merchants

UCA News reporter, Natore

UCA News reporter, Natore

Updated: November 14, 2020 04:54 AM GMT
Priest's book examines history of Christianity in Bangladesh

Father Dilip Stephen Costa spent 10 years researching and writing his book. (Photo supplied)

A Bangladeshi priest has authored a book that documents the history of Christianity in the country spanning more than five centuries.

Father Dilip Stephen Costa’s Bengali-language book Bangladeshey Christomondoly Porichiti (Introduction to Church in Bangladesh) was launched by Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi on Nov. 12.

Father Costa is a diocesan priest and pastor of St. Rita’s Church in Pabna district, covered by Rajshahi Diocese.

He teaches church history at Holy Spirit National Major Seminary in capital Dhaka. Ordained a priest in 1996, he studied church history at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome from 2002-05.

His book is only the second Bengali-language book with a complete history of the Catholic Church in the country after Bangladeshey Catholic Mondoli (The Catholic Church in Bangladesh) by Canada-based Catholic writer and journalist Jerome D’Costa in 1986.

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The 337-page book covers the history of European missionaries arriving in the region in the aftermath of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landing in India in 1498.

It documents the advent of the Church in the then Indian region of Bengal, which is now split between Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, and the histories of dioceses in Goa and southern India.

The book records the histories of all eight dioceses and parishes, seminaries and formation houses, religious congregations, church-based organizations including Caritas, the Credit Union movement, Bangladesh Diocesan Priests’ Fraternity and Bangladesh Conference of Religious.

It also examines the life and works of prominent Christian personalities including politicians and internationally recognized clergy, religious and laypeople, plus the contributions of Christian missionaries to Bengali language and literature.

The book’s publication is the fruit of research and hard work for about 10 years, said Father Costa, 54.

“As I started teaching at the major seminary, I faced difficulties in getting resources on local church history as books and documents on the topic were insufficient. So, I started gathering information that was scattered in many places and documented it in my book,” he told UCA News.

“As this book covers the complete history of the Christian community in Bangladesh, I hope it will become a useful resource for those interested in local church history and become an important document for the Church in Bangladesh.”

Christianity in Bangladesh dates back to the early 16th century.

In 1517, Portuguese Catholic merchants arrived at the port of Chittagong in southeastern Bangladesh. The first group left after conducting business, but a second group that arrived in 1518 decided to stay in Chittagong and nearby Diang, setting up the first Christian settlements in East Bengal (now Bangladesh)

Portuguese Jesuit priests Father Francesco Fernandez and Father Dominic D’Souza arrived in Chittagong in 1598 as the first Catholic missionaries. Soon, other Jesuit priests, Dominicans and Augustinians followed in their footsteps.

In 1602, Father Fernandez became the first martyr of Bengal following his incarceration, torture, blinding and murder at the hands of soldiers of the Arakan Kingdom (now Rakhine state of Myanmar). 

The first church in what is now Bangladesh was built in 1600 by Portuguese Jesuits at Chandecan (Iswaripur) in the present Satkhira district of southwestern Bangladesh. River erosion devoured the structure centuries ago. The Jesuits started a second church in 1601 at Chittagong.

The first church in Dhaka Archdiocese was built by Portuguese Augustinian Fathers at Narinda, near Dhaka, in the first half of the 17th century.

Other missionaries in Bangladesh included English and Belgian Benedictines, the Italian Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), Xaverian Fathers and French, Canadian and American Holy Cross Fathers.

Christians, mostly Catholics, account for less than half a percent of Bangladesh’s more than 160 million people in the Muslim-majority nation. About 400,000 Catholics are spread across its eight dioceses.

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