ASIA-OCEANIAA ministry of presence
When the Oblates first arrived in Bangladesh in 1973, a country where 85% of the people are Muslims, there were only 300,000 Christians. Priestly formation became one of their first priorities, and before long they opened a seminary and scholasticate in Dhaka. Their efforts have been rewarded: there are currently 50 seminarians, five scholastics and four novices discerning their call to become Oblates. The country is home to 28 ordained Oblates, including a bishop, two missionaries from Sri Lanka and five indigenous priests.
Father Subash GOMES grew up near Dhaka, the country’s capital city. “I have five brothers and three sisters,” he said. “From childhood I had the desire to be a priest.” Before he joined the Oblates, Fr. Subash lived and worked on his family’s farm. “I took care of the cows,” he said. “We knew what hardship was.” The priest, now 40 years old, joined the Oblates after tenth grade and was ordained to the priesthood in 2007.
Today Fr. Subash is bursar for the Bangladesh Delegation. As such it is his responsibility to stay atop the many and varied Oblate ministries – and to make sure each ministry is properly funded. One of the biggest challenges the Bangladesh Oblates face stems from the fact that they have chosen to serve the indigenous poor. Ministry with them is very difficult due to distance and lack of proper communication. To reach the farthest villages the Oblates must walk five to six hours through mountainous jungle, often finding the smoothest path by walking through ankle-deep water in canals.
Education is a priority for the Oblates – especially in regions where the people are deprived of schools. “Education is one of the key ways to break the cycle of poverty,” said Fr. Subash. “The education ministry is so successful that more than 100 indigenous students are now attending college.” The Oblates have opened two large schools in Sunamgonj (1,000 students) and in Kulaura (700 students), as well as smaller schools in 25 remote villages. Students often travel long distances for the opportunity to study at one of these schools. To accommodate them the Oblates opened three hostels in the city of Sylhet – two for boys and one for girls.
The Oblates have
also started a Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) initiative.
Through this special ministry the Oblates stand up for the rights of
Bangladesh’s indigenous poor people.
The Oblates provide emergency relief when people are victimized by floods, cyclones, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Calamities like these are common in Bangladesh. During one particularly destructive flood in 2003 the Oblates opened their scholasticate to the victims. They emptied the dining room, television room and church verandas so that as many as 200 families could find shelter for a month. Father Subash said, “Once we gave the room, many generous people came to help – God’s providence. People came with meats, oils, vegetables. After their classes, the seminarians served food to the flood victims – 99% of whom were Muslim.”
Because the villages in Bangladesh are so remote and far apart, accessing proper medical care is nearly impossible. The Oblates have two shelters in Dhaka where people can stay for better treatment. They also provide basic necessities to the people who live in the slums near the scholasticate. In addition, some 200 persons come to the Oblate scholasticate each week to receive free medication.
Despite their long list of ministries, the Oblates in Bangladesh dream of expanding and doing more to help their people. They hope one day to help migrants develop skills like cooking or sewing so they can find jobs. They want to expand their school programs and hire more teachers.
They also hope to build deep-tube wells to help those affected by contaminated or insufficient water supplies. The Oblates in Bangladesh have been working tirelessly for 40 years to share God’s love. Father Subash reflected on the Oblates’ ministry by saying, “Living the values is our way of preaching.” He continued, “Our presence, our ministries…this is how we reach the people.” (Oblate World - www.omiusa.org, February 2014)
St. Eugene Province of India is blessed with another child in the form of a mission in West Bengal. On 10 March 2014 the Oblates marched forward in opening the first Oblate mission station there. It is named “St. Eugene Nivas”. Archbishop Thomas D'Souza blessed and laid the foundation stone in the presence of Fr. Francis NALLAPPAN, the Provincial. A good number of Oblates and neighbouring parish priests and sisters were present for the occasion. It is a difficult and challenging mission amidst migrants from Bangladesh and fundamental Hindus. The members of the province of India appreciate all the young Oblates, namely Frs. Rajesh Paul KUJUR, Joe Antony, SALAMON, AROKIADOSS and Deacons Soloman and Rajesh for possessing the true spirit of our Founder and Father, St. Eugene, in daring to do the mission of Christ amidst such challenges. May our Mother Mary be our guide and support.
Wickipedia describes West Bengal as: “a state in the eastern region of India and is the nation's fourth-most populous. It is also the seventh-most populous sub-national entity in the world, with over 91 million inhabitants. Spread over 34,267 sq mi (88,750 km2), it is bordered by the countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, and Assam. The state capital is Kolkata [formerly Calcutta]. Together with the neighboring nation of Bangladesh and the state of Tripura, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal.” (BORN, March 2014)
The first two immigrants were Adam and Eve: they had to leave their beautiful homeland, Eden. The other great immigrant was Jesus, who left heaven looking for better prospects on earth. His own did not receive him. Later, his parents, like present day immigrants, had to leave Israel out of fear that the child Jesus would be killed. They went to Egypt without any visa.
In common parlance, anyone who has left home or village can also be considered to be an immigrant. Thousands have settled in different countries and are working temporarily for different reasons as migrant workers. Whoever they are, they are outside of their familiar environment and are at the mercy of unknown forces. They face insecurities known and unknown; they fear a serpent under every bush; fear is the biggest enemy.
Before the advent of the
garment industries, the city of Dhaka seldom saw women in this male dominated
world. Suddenly, like a huge downpour, women came by the thousands to work in
the newly opened garment industries. Being unskilled, innocent and gullible,
they were lured by the call of their friends. They endured duress, hid their
fears, lived frugally, sent money home to their families with pride. No one was
there to help them.
Baridhara became the place of refuge for all of them. Looking at the signs of the times, the Prado Sisters were bold. They left Khulna, rented a hovel, and worked among the garment workers, most of whom were women. For various reasons, the Prado Sisters reluctantly had to terminate their great work, but God did not abandon the migrants of Baridhara. He sent other angels, the Blue Sisters. They continued the same work with the same spirit and expanded, influenced and contributed a spiritual dimension to poverty. Others have joined the Oblates in serving the needy: the Missionaries of Charity, the Our Lady of Sorrow Sisters, the Marist Sisters and the Holy Cross Sisters. While the Church is almost dying in some places, the vibrancy and life of the Church in Baridhara is a testimony to the loving presence of a God who cares: different Congregations working together, with the same goal, serving the migrants.
In the past the whole area of Baridhara had few inhabitants, but suddenly it was flooded by an influx of different people, and all came from outside Dhaka. All were migrants. In an unbelievable outpouring of the Spirit, caring for the needy of different races, creeds and places of origin took the form of schools, dispensaries, care for the handicapped, and social services by these different Congregations. The number of people who have been touched directly or indirectly by Christ is phenomenal. At least some of the poor with their many faces can come to Baridhara and feel welcomed. (Fr. Angelo MARTYN in Bangladesh Flashes, April 2014)