Vatican City (Fides Service) - The media usually only speak about Bangladesh when there is a natural disaster or for its sad primate in dire poverty and low position on the list of developed countries. But the papal nuncio to Bangladesh Korean born Archbishop Paul Tschang In-Nam, told Fides about a country of peaceful, hardworking people with ancient traditions and culture, courageously committed to develop alternative sources of income with the system of “micro-credit”. The Nuncio said Bangladesh, is not only poverty, Muslim fundamentalism and massive emigration.
One of the world’s most populous countries with 140 million people 85% Muslim, Bangladesh has two main political parties “Bangladesh National Party” (BNP) present in government led by Khaleda Zia, and the opposition party “Awami League”. BNP governs with a coalition formed with 3 other parties, including two of Muslim inspiration which want to make Bangladesh an Islamic fundamentalist regime.
Archbishop Tschang In-Nam said: “I doubt they will succeed: the middle class is made up of tolerant, open and moderate Muslims who want to maintain a secular state in keeping with the cultural and religious traditions of Bangladesh. The BNP respects other religious minorities and in fact the proposal to introduce a blasphemy law similar to the one in Pakistan in 2004 was withdrawn after pressure in the country and from outside”.
There are often strikes and protests in Bangladesh: “social tension is the result of poverty. The country has a NGP of about 300 dollars per head for year and relies heavily on donor countries, the European Union and Canada in particular. Unemployment among young people in this country where the population is young, is a serious problem. It is one of the world’s countries with the highest population density: 140 million living in 140,000 sq. km. Despite efforts by the government malnutrition is widespread and the streets are full of beggars and tramps”.
Bangladesh needs the help of the international community if it is to develop: “The country is essential agricultural but frequent floods do not help production so it is an agriculture of subsistence. A Yunus Micro-credit experiment “the bank of the poor” proved to be a success although it helped only a small part of the people and not the majority. The initiative has had good results but it is a drop in the ocean”.
In this context the Church in Bangladesh is active mainly in the field of education. Officially 40% of the people are illiterate but the real number is closer to 70%, Archbishop Tschang In-Nam told Fides “The local Church runs over 500 primary, middle schools and colleges highly appreciated by both the government and the people. Pupils at Catholic schools are mainly Muslims. Our schools are not seen as a threat to the cultural and religious identity of the Muslim pupils because the curriculum is secular and only Catholic pupils attend religious instruction classes”.
The Catholic community is also active in healthcare: “Every parish, mission and school has its own dispensary or health clinic where assistance is given mainly free of charge. Since state healthcare does not reach people everywhere Catholic centres help to fill in for the lack of public structures particularly thanks to the presence of many different religious institutes”.
In this Muslim country inter-religious dialogue is important, the Nuncio said: “The civil community has quashed the threat of fundamentalism more than once. When in 2004 an Islamic militia group took hold of public order in the north east ousting the local police force the civil community protested and the group was outlawed. This was a clear signal and a safeguard for the whole nation. We have Christian - Muslim dialogue at the intellectual level. At the popular level Muslims benefit from Christian social and medical services and this builds good relations. There is a general attitude of respect for non Muslim minority groups although episodes of intolerance are not lacking”.
“Evangelisation continues mainly among tribal peoples. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom but a Muslim who wants to change his religion meets with strong opposition from the family and society which makes it difficult. Although it is not written in the Constitution, the government feels it has the duty to keep the Muslim population intact. Therefore the Church’s activity is limited. It is difficult for missionaries to obtain residence permits. The most active missionary congregations include the Xaverians, PIME, Holy Cross Missionaries, male and female, Sisters of Mother Teresa, Marist Sisters, Salesian Sisters, ,Luigine, the Blue Sisters of Charles de Foucauld, and others who render excellent and generous service to society. The Church in Bangladesh is a minority (280,000 Catholics) which bears witness to Christ’s love for all peoples”.
The Nuncio concluded: “I thank the Lord for choosing me to show this people with my presence the affection and closeness of the Holy Father. My presence has also built a bridge between the Church in Korea and the Church here: we have many Korean missionaries in Bangladesh. Four more are about to arrive any day, every year the major seminary in Dajeon, Korea offers two scholarships for seminarians from the Church in Bangladesh, and Caritas Korea funds various programmes of social assistance”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 28/6/2005, righe 63 parole 543)