Co-contributor: Inmanuel Chayan Biswas, Head of Operation, ERP Cox's Bazar, Caritas Bangladesh.
Cox’s Bazar is a southeastern district in Bangladesh located at the shore of the Bay of Bengal. The distance from Cox’s Bazar to the headquarter of the Chattogram archdiocese is 140 km. and it takes about 4-5 hours to travel by road. Cox’s Bazar is a city, fishing port and tourism centre, mostly famous for its longest natural sea beach.
Recently, from 2017 besides being a tourism centre Cox’s Bazar also has drawn international interest for the Rohingya influx from the neighbouring country Myanmar. Currently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that, as of Dec. 31, 2021, there are 918,841 individuals (192,908 families) residing in camps in Bangladesh.
Cox’s Bazar is still being considered the virgin district within the territory of the Chattogram archdiocese as systematic pastoral care was not started there yet. After all, Christian men, especially of Dhaka are traditionally involved in restaurant jobs. A few of them have been working in Cox’s Bazar for a long time. The recent Rohingya influx brought about 140 NGOs to operate in Cox’s Bazar for assistance to the refugees.
Since then the scenario changed and some Christian men and women working in NGOs were posted or newly recruited by these NGOs in Cox’s Bazar. With time, some NGOs have closed their operation, again a few new NGOs come with the new projects. So, there are always 60-100 Catholics from all over Bangladesh residing in Cox’s Bazar though none of them is local and permanent.
The Chattogram archdiocese is deeply concerned about the pastoral care of these faithful, as well as of the refugees. This is to be mentioned that the 6th priority among the 7 of the Chattogram archdiocese is ‘Promotion of Harmony and Peace’ which articulated dialogue with the vulnerable people like refugees as well. The 7th priority is ‘Reaching out’ which promotes rendering pastoral care to the faithful who are usually left out. To attend to the pastoral priorities, the late Archbishop Moses M. Costa, CSC entrusted the pastoral care of Cox’s Bazar district to the nearest parish ‘Shanti Rani Catholic Church’. This church is situated in the Aliadam Upazilla under the Bandarban district and is distant from Cox’s about 85 km. The parish is administered by the pastoral care of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Priests, locally known as OMI. Two OMI priests, Father Bejoy Gabriel Rebeiro and Father Sujan John Kisku are assigned respectively as the parish priest and assistant parish priest in Shanti Rani Parish, Alikadam. Since 2018, they have been sacrificing Eucharist in Cox’s Bazar with the faithful once a month. It is a tremendous service by them to travel 170 km. to visit Cox’s Bazar and way back as the transportation of the route is poor conditioned. On a few occasions, the diocesan bishop also sacrifices Eucharist there. But in Cox’s Bazar the Chattogram Catholic Archdiocese does not have any church or chapel to organize the masses. So, she needs to hire a conference room from any Hotel! The late archbishop had been trying to get a piece of land leased from the government to build a small chapel but regretfully did not come to success yet. It would be worth continuing the try again with the leadership of the new archbishop. We do believe that the government will be generous and fair enough to provide a piece of land as it has been providing for other religions.
During the Holy Week, most of the Catholics in Cox’s Bazar left for their mother parish to celebrate with the family but a few remained there too. To have a spiritual get-together of the Catholics, the lay faithful and the parish priest Father Gabriel Rebeiro planned for a Eucharistic celebration on 15 May 2022.
The date was already scheduled by Archbishop Lawrence Subrato Howlader, CSC to visit the Rohingya refugees in Ukhiya. So, it was a good opportunity for him to preside over the get-together mass in the evening. In the morning the archbishop visited the refugee camps under the care of Caritas Bangladesh along with our benefactors from Germany, Ms. Veronique and Ms. Natalie. They left Cox’s Bazar by the afternoon.
Thereafter the archbishop presided over the Eucharist in the evening and joined in fellowship dinner with the faithful. The overall cost for the rent of the conference room and meals were shared by the Catholics living in Cox’s Bazar. Though the program was a simple one, it meant a lot for them as they found themselves opportune to have monthly mass and receive their archbishop sometimes.
While talking with some of them we have heard overwhelming joy. We saw some of them posted on the social network platform Facebook sharing their joy and gratitude.
Though once a month, it is an opportunity.
A Facebook post by Uttam Christofar Rozario…