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Updated: October 03, 1991 05:00 PM GMT
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After a 45-day sea voyage, Holy Cross Brother Flavian Laplante arrived in Bangladesh from Canada on Dec. 1, 1932.

He was first sent to Padrishibpur, Barisal district, to open a high school. After the high school was established and during World War II, Brother Laplante worked in Noakhali Catholic Church.

Then he was sent to St. Placid´s High School in Chittagong, the only other Catholic secondary school in Chittagong diocese. The transfer to St. Placid´s required some adjustment on the part of the brother since he had been working in a Bengali environment, which was absent in Chittagong.

Although Brother Laplante eventually returned to Padrishibpur, his heart was in Chittagong. He wanted to serve the rootless and destitute coastal people.

He eventually acquired 35 hectares of hilly area 16 kilometers south of Chittagong city called "Diang" (holy place).

In 1946 he started an orphanage with 225 boys and girls, the children of poor fishermen and people who died in World War II. Initially this orphanage was called Miriam Ashram. The orphanage ran until orphans were rehabilitated and settled in homes or provided with work.

Some of the non-Christian orphans were baptized and later married. Six of them still live in the Diang hills.

Brother Laplante founded the Diang Ashram (study and meditation center) in Chittagong in 1946. The main institution of Diang was the ashram and the brother was the first guru (spiritual teacher).

The ashram is a place of meditation, prayer, retreat and contemplation. A statue of the Blessed Mother is kept in a cave in one of the hills very close to the ashram. Diang also has other institutions established on the initiative of Brother Laplante.

There are primary and high schools (hundreds of boys and girls of fisher families attend these schools), a boys´ hostel comprising 60 students (half Christian and half Hindu), a health center, adult women´s education center, a technical school for dropouts, sisters´ and brothers´ residences, and the "Palakia Kendra" (Pastoral Center).

Presently 50 families reside in Diang. They have built shacks and small houses, while more than 100 people have bought plots for constructing residences.

"About 200 families can be accommodated in the community building scheme," Holy Cross Brother Lawrence Dias said.

Two Holy Cross brothers, three Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions sisters, and guru Holy Cross Father John Belloni lead the institutions in Diang.

The policy of Brother Laplante was to organize oppressed and destitute people, not only of Diang, but also of the adjacent villages.

With the introduction of credit unions, his dream eventually became a reality. Now there are several credit unions in Diang. The credit unions have 172 members and their total capital is 60,635 taka (US$1,684).

A committee organizes the annual pilgrimage to the hills in Diang.

The enormous trees that the Canadian brother planted on the hills stand as a living witness to his work. All people who worked with him sing his praises, while the trees provide shade for his grave and shelter from the rain.


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