With renewed hope to reach out…

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Co-contributor: Inmanuel Chayan Biswas, Head of Operation, ERP Cox's Bazar, Caritas Bangladesh.
Cox’s Bazar- the longest sea beach in the world!

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.

I have been working in Caritas Bangladesh since 2018. This evening we had the opportunity to have a mass. Our beloved and respected Archbishop Lawrence Subrato Howlader, CSC sacrificed the Eucharist for us. We are fortunate because even though we are a far distance from any Catholic parish, we don’t have any church here, we have been receiving mass. We dream that in near future we will have a place of worship with the cooperation of our bishop and priests so that we can regularly nurture our faith and sacraments.

Shiva Tresa Biswas
Khulna Diocese

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. 

I am in Cox’s Bazar for my husband’s job here. We have gathered here from all the denominations. We have this occassion in every month in Albatross Hotel. I don’t have any word to express the joy of this gathering together. Now we have only one need if it would be possible to erect a parish here. We have families, we have children, we will increase more in future. It would be wonderful if all of us become a family under the umbrella of a parish. This small community could be a bigger Church in future.

Cecilia Tonni D’Cruze
Rajshahi Diocese

I have been working with the Rohingya response program of DanChurch Aid for the last five years. Here we are not many Christians but we try to gather together sometimes. We are grateful to the Catholic Church for sacrificing mass at least once a month here. I thank them. Today’s feeling of joy is not expressable! I appeal to the bishop and priests to arrange mass for us at least twice a month in future.

Paul Romeo Karmakar
Khulna Diocese

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.

I have been working with the Rohingya response program of Action Aid Bangladesh for the last two and a half years. I am a follower of Matiranga Baptist Church. I am grateful for this evening which was an evening of worship and fellowship together. We hope that all Christians in Cox’s Bazar will join us in future.

Bibika Tripura
Chattogram Archdiocese

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… 

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