In Bangladesh, Church stands up for ethnic minorities
"When the ethnic minorities suffer, the Church also suffers, for 60 percent of our Catholic faithful belong to this part of the population."
By Eva-Maria Kolmann
YORK—The Catholic Church in Bangladesh is speaking up for the
rights of the country’s ethnic minorities, bemoaning the fact that ethnic and
religious minorities are not explicitly mentioned in the nation’s constitution.
Moses Costa of Chittagong told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church
in Need (ACN) that “the government does not acknowledge their rightful
existence and ignores them, so that they have hardly any possibility” of
bettering their position in society.
that minorities are often discriminated against in the workplace, even in some
schools, since they do not speak the national language—and “when the ethnic
minorities suffer, the Church also suffers, for 60 percent of our Catholic faithful
belong to this part of the population,” the bishop said. He noted that he
Catholic Church is the only institution standing up for the rights and human dignity
of the minorities.
Costa described how, in the wake of severe flooding last year in the so-called
Chittagong Hill Tracts, a mountainous province within his archdiocese, the
government refused to aid the ethnic minorities living there and denied the
existence of the crisis. He also criticized the exploitation of the tribal
peoples in the ship-breaking yards of Chittagong Harbor, where unseaworthy
ships are broken up into their component parts for reuse in other ways. For
example, the steel components are dismantled and used as structural steel in buildings.
“This work is carried out under very hazardous conditions and claims
innumerable human lives. But I am not permitted to visit this place, because
the authorities have refused me permission,” the archbishop charged.
about the attacks on Christians and on Church properties which have been escalating
in the overwhelmingly Muslim country, the archbishop said that a mixture of
political and religious motives fuel the violence.
On the one hand, there often
attempts to unjustly gain possession of land and properties belonging to the
tribal peoples, who are often Christians; however, the prelate said that some
attacks have a religious aspect, a factor that is becoming more pronounced. There
are a many different Islamic groups and organizations in Bangladesh.
year a thousand Bengalis attacked a parish in Chittagong, because many miles
away two business men had been killed and we Christians were accused of having
had something to do with it,” the archbishop said, adding that the situation in
Chittagong is “difficult and dangerous.”
there are also reasons for Catholics to rejoice. When Pope Francis in November 2016
made Archbishop Patrick D‘Rozario of Dhaka a cardinal, not only were Catholics “overcome
with joy,” but even the non-Christian population was “very happy,” Archbishop
Costa reported. The government also appreciated that “the Pope was according
the country a special degree of recognition and honor.”
That respect was also
evident when the Diocese of Chittagong was elevated to become an archdiocese in
to the two events, “the Catholic Church was given greater importance” in the
country, he said. “Generally speaking, and despite its numerically small size,
the Church in Bangladesh makes a significant contribution to the educational
system through its schools and is likewise very active in the area of
healthcare. It is widely respected by many people as a result,” said Archbishop
account for almost 90 percent of the population of Bangladesh, 156 million with
Hindus making up the second largest religious group at 9.5 percent. There are
270,000 Catholics in the country.
Last year ACN gave around 560,000 Euros
in support for the Catholic Church in Bangladesh.
Archbishop Costa with women religious; ACN photo