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Christianity in Bangladesh

 
 
 

Christianity in Bangladesh


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Christianity arrived in what is now Bangladesh during the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century CE, through the Portuguese traders and missionaries. Christians account for less than 1% of the total population. The total Christian population is around 370,000, out of which 221,000 are Roman Catholics, the rest being Orthodox and non-denominational.
Early history
Renowned Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa in 1498 and landed at Calicut (present Kozikode of India) by discovering the sea-route to India. From 1500 onwards, the Portuguese established their power first in Cranganore, then to Cochin and Goa. With these traders and commercial opportunists, also came Franciscan, Dominican order, Augustinian, and Jesuit missionaries to bring Indian heathens to Christianity. From 1517 onwards, Portuguese traders from Goa were traversing the sea-route to Bengal but were not successful in establishing trading posts in this part of India. Only in 1537, were they allowed to settle and open customs houses at Satgaon (near present-day Hooghly) of West Bengal (India) and Chittagong of present-day Bangladesh. In 1577, Mughal emperor Akbar permitted the Portuguese to build permanent settlements and churches in Bengal. The first Christians in Bengal were the Portuguese themselves. After their intermarriage with local women, their descendants became the first indigenous Christians. Then came the local converts to Christianity from both Hinduism and Islam.

Timeline
The Portuguese traders brought Christianity to this country through the port of Chittagong, called the Porto Grande or the great port, in the 16th century, but the first church in Bangladesh was built in 1599 at Chandecan (also called Iswaripur or old Jessore) near Kaliganj in the Sunderbans of present Satkhira district.

1599: Jesuit Father Francisco Fernandez went to Chandecan in October, and with permission of King Pratapadittya built a church and a rectory there. This new church, called the "Holy Name of Jesus", was officially dedicated on January 1, 1600, when the King himself was present in the ceremony.
1600: The second church, called "St. John the Baptist Church", was built in Chittagong on June 24 by Jesuit Fathers Francisco Fernandez and Andre Boves with financial assistance from the King of Arakan (presently in western Myanmar or Burma).
1601: At the invitation of the Portuguese merchants, Dominican Fathers Gaspar da Assumpsao and Melchior da Luz went to Diang (Dianga), south-east of Chittagong on the Karnaphully River, and built the third church (chapel) there. When the Arakanese attacked the place, the chapel was burnt down and missionaries were manhandled. After this, the Dominicans left the place forever.
1602: Jesuit Father Francisco Fernandez tried to save some Portuguese children from the Arakanese who had made them slaves. The Arakanese were so enraged that they captured Fr. Fernandez, beat him and placed him in chains in a dark prison. He died there on November 14, 1602 becoming the first Christian martyr in the territory comprising present Bangladesh.
1608: Islam Khan, the Mughal Subedar of Bengal, made Dhaka—previously a mere military outpost—the capital of Bengal. This was followed by progress and prosperity in business attracting Portuguese, Dutch, French and English merchants.
1612: Portuguese Augustinian missionaries introduced Christianity in Dhaka.
1628: The same missionaries established a church, called the "Church of the Assumption", in the Narinda area of the city.
1695: The church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino was constructed at Nagori, 25 kilometres north-east of Dhaka.
1764: Portuguese missionaries built a church at Padrishibpur in Barisal district. Another Portuguese church was built at Hashnabad, 30 kilometres south-west of Dhaka, in 1777.

Roman Catholics
In 1682, there were 14,120 Roman Catholics in the Bangladesh territory. As the Bangladeshi Muslims have Arabic and Persian surnames, so do the Portuguese-converted Catholics have Portuguese surnames, such as Gomes, Rozario, Cruze, Dores, D’ Silva, D’ Souza, and so forth. To recognize Catholics by names, the missionaries used to give one Christian name and one of their surnames to the newly-baptized person. The later Catholic missionaries from France, USA, Canada, and Italy did not follow the Portuguese in naming the new Christians. They gave one Christian name but did not change the surname of the newly convert. Presently, the Catholic Church has six dioceses—Dhaka, Chittagong, Dinajpur, Khulna, Mymensngh, and Rajshahi—with a Catholic population of about 221,000, more than 70 parish churches, 200 priests, 50 Brothers, 700 nuns, 1,000 catechists, and many educational, healthcare, and welfare institutions and organizations.


Protestant Denominations
William Carey was a Protestant missionary who arrived at Serampore in West Bengal in 1793. This Englishman heralded the new missionary era in Bengal. Many Protestant organizations have since established themselves in the country:

1793: Baptist Missionary Society (British)
1805: Church Missionary Society (British)
1862: Council for World Mission (British Presbyterian)
1882: Australian Baptist Mission
1886: New Zealand Baptist Mission
1895: Oxford Mission (British Anglican)
1905: Churches of God (American)
1919: Seventh-day Adventists
1945: Assemblies of God
1956: Santal Mission (Lutheran)
1957: Bangladesh Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention American
1958: Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (American)
After the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, there was a new influx of Protestant missionary societies into Bangladesh. Besides evangelism, these societies have also established and run various educational, healthcare, and welfare institutions. At present, the number of Protestants in Bangladesh is estimated to be around 150,000.


Contributions
Christians contributed immensely in the field of Bengali literature. Portuguese missionary Fr. Manuel da Assumpsao wrote Kripar Shastrer Orthobhed, which was printed in 1743 in Lisbon, Portugal, in the Roman alphabet. It was a catechism in the question-answer form. He also wrote a 40-page Bengali grammar book and a 529-page Bengali-Portuguese and Portuguese-Bengali dictionary, called Vocabulario em Idioma Bengulla-e-Portuguez, divided em duas Partes. Dom Antonio da Rozario, a local Hindu prince converted by the Portuguese, was successful in making mass conversions (20,000 to 30,000) among low-caste Hindus in the region north of Dhaka. He wrote Brahman-Roman Catholic Sambad, where a Roman Catholic dialogues with a Hindu Brahmin (priest) and tries to show the superiority of Christianity over Hinduism.

Baptist missionary William Carey translated and printed the Bible in Bengali, wrote many other books and a dictionary, called A Dictionary of the Bengali Language. He also helped develop Bengali type faces for printing and established Serampore Mission and College besides publishing newspapers and periodicals. His colleagues Dr. John Thomas, William Ward, Felix Carey (his son), John Pearson, and others also left their contributions in Bengali literature. Carey also developed the Bengal school system. Recently, two Catholic Italian Xaverian missionaries—Fathers Marino Rigon and Silvano Garello—have been translating many works of 1913 Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jasimuddin and others into Italian. Their books have created an increasing intrerest of the Italians for Bengali literature and Bangladesh.

The Churches in Bangladesh have worked in the fields of merciful activities such as education and medicare for all mainly the poor, underprivileged, and helpless. In a country where almost 85% of the people are Muslims, running such educational and welfare institutions and organizations under a Christian banner remains difficult.

After the Bangladesh Liberation War, the missionaries controlled by Mother Teresa were the first organizations to enter Bangladesh after 1971 to help the victims. Many of these missionaries have established offices in Bangladesh and still operate independently. These missionaries along with many other contribute actively during flood and various cyclones in the coastal region.


Prominent Bangladesh Christians
Though small in number, Bangladeshi Christians have made a significant contribution to Bangladesh since independence in 1971.

The music director Samar Das, led the creation of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra ("Free Bengal Radio") during the Bangladesh Liberation War and orchestrated and notated the National Anthem of the new country, Tagore's "Amar Sonar Bangla", enabling it to be recorded and played by orchestras around the world.
Human rights activist Rosaline Costa has played a strong role in raising awareness of minority and gender issues and has been recognized internationally.
Adv Cyril Shikder was a former ambassador to Bhutan.
Pramod Mankin is currently the only Christian Member of Parliament, from the Awami League Party.
Michael Madhusudan Dutt (also written Datta or Dutta),(1824-1873), born Madhusudan Dutt, was a famous 19th century Bengali poet and dramatist. He was born in the village Sagardari, Jessore District, Bengal (now in Bangladesh). Madhusudan was the father of Bangla Sonnet. Poet Madhusudan converted to Christianity, taking the Christian name of Michael.
Michael Sushil Adhikari (1924-97) was a social worker, poet, former President of the Bangladesh Baptist Sangha, and former advisor to the Government of Bangladesh during the presidency of General Hossain Mohammad Ershad
Nirmal Rozario is Secretary General of the Bangladesh Christian Association and one of the most prominent Bangladeshi Catholic leaders
Andrew Kishore is a popular singer of modern songs and has had many hits as a playback artist in Bangladesh movies
Alfred Khokon is a famous folk singer