Young Bangladeshi Catholics taught to be better citizens

International student group holds a conference in Dhaka to encourage creative leadership
Young Bangladeshi Catholics taught to be better citizens

Young Catholic leaders participate in a session during a week-long conference in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka that aims to promote better social engagement and creative leadership to create better citizens. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)   

An international Catholic student organization is holding a week-long workshop for young Catholics in Bangladesh with an aim to instill in them better ideas for social engagement and creative leadership to help them become better citizens.

The conference, titled “Transformative Citizenship for a Newer Bangladesh: Students’ Education, Engagement and Action,” has brought together 45 young Catholic leaders from across the country.

The Asia-Pacific wing of the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS-AP) and the Bangladesh Catholic Students Movement (BCSM) joined hands to organize the Feb. 21-28 program at Caritas Development Institute in capital Dhaka.

The participants, mostly college and university students, are from various Catholic student organizations based in two Catholic archdioceses and six dioceses.

The program includes theoretical and practical learning sessions led by local and international experts focusing on global issues such as climate change, conflict and violence, advocacy, solidarity and action, and geopolitical citizenship.

“Our aim is to transform young Catholics and turn them into local and national leaders. We intend to implement spirituality of action, which means not confining our activities into prayers and meetings but practical actions so that we can contribute effectively locally, nationally and globally,” William Nokrek, co-coordinator of IMCS-AP, told UCA News.

The program is part of the Global Initiative for Students Empowerment Action and Solidarity (GISEAS) project of the IMCS, which aims for simultaneous global and local sociopolitical, economic, cultural and spiritual analysis, development of local alternatives influenced by the mutual global exchange and learning among students’ communities’ vis-a-vis creating global impact.

Leadership among the young generation is on the decline in Bangladesh for various reasons, said Nokrek, an ethnic Garo and Bangladeshi Catholic.

“Our parents press their children for education and careers but discourage extracurricular activities. Senior leaders are reluctant to make way for the next generation. Thus, young Catholics are depressed and youth organizations are failing to deliver future leaders. We hope to break up this syndication and stagnancy and promote dialogue so that young people can brainstorm and make their own plan of action for the future,” he added.

Conventional youth activities are not enough to address pressing issues of the modern age, so the dynamics of youth activism must change to be relevant, said BCSM president Patrick D. Purification.

“For too long we have focused on self-development as well as for the Church, but we have not engaged much in social and rights-based matters,” he said.

“Young people need to be conscious and engage in practical activism about important social issues like children’s and women’s rights, freedom of speech, rights of minorities and downtrodden communities. In the process of creative youth activism, we can serve society and the state better, and we can develop ourselves as better citizens and leaders.”

Christians are small minority in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, accounting for less than half a percent of a population of more than 160 million. Catholics make up the majority of Christians, who are spread across the country.

The Episcopal Youth Commission is the local Catholic Church’s apex youth body, which carries out year-long activities as part of the Church’s youth ministry. There are diocesan youth commissions in every diocese that implement their specific youth agenda under guidance of the local bishop.

The BCSM, affiliated with the IMCS and recognized by local bishops, is a semi-independent youth movement that has about 1,000 members in Bangladesh.

Magis Bangla, a creative youth movement led by Jesuits, has become highly popular among young Catholics in Bangladesh in recent years.

However, observers and young Catholics often criticize Catholic youth programs for being too conventional and not in favor of flourishing new leadership.

“The Church has a lot of programs for young people, but it is an inconvenient truth that those programs are too conventional and those who lead youth ministries want to control young people the way they find best. They discourage future young leaders. This is disappointing and we need to find a way out of it,” a participant told UCA News on condition of anonymity. 

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