Christianity in Bangladesh
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Christianity arrived in what is now Bangladesh during the late 16th to early 17th century through the Portuguese traders and missionaries. Christians account for approximately 1% of the total population. Christianity's first contact with the Indian subcontinent is attributed to Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have preached in Kerala. Although Jesuit priests were active at the Mughal courts in the 16th and 17th centuries, the first Roman Catholic settlements in Bangladesh appear to have been established by the Portuguese, coming from their center in Goa on the west coast of India. During the 16th century the Portuguese settled in the vicinity of Chittagong, where they were active in piracy and trade. In the 17th century some Portuguese moved to Dhaka.
Serious Protestant missionary efforts began only in the first half of the 19th century. Baptist missionary activities beginning in 1816, the Anglican Oxford Mission, and others worked mainly among the tribal peoples of the Low Hills in the northern parts of Mymensingh and Sylhet. Many of the Christian churches, schools, and hospitals were initially set up to serve the European community. They subsequently became centers of missionary activities, particularly among the lower caste Hindus.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs provided assistance and support to the Christian institutions in the country. In the late 1980s, the government was not imposing any restrictions on the legitimate religious activities of the missions and the communities. Mission schools and hospitals were well attended and were used by members of all religions. The Christian community usually enjoyed better opportunities for education and a better standard of living. In the late 1980s, Christianity had about 1600,000 adherents, mainly Roman Catholic, and their numbers were growing rapidly.
Renowned Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa in 1498 and landed at Calicut (present Kozhikode 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, Augustinian, and Jesuit missionaries to bring Indians 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 Hooghly) in West Bengal and Chittagong. In 1577, Mughal emperor Akbar permitted the Portuguese to build permanent settlements and churches in Bengal. After the Portuguese intermarried with local women or converted native Bengali people, their descendants became the first generation of indigenous Christians in Bangladesh. Additional locals converted to Christianity from Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
In the 16th century, Portuguese traders brought Christianity to Bangladesh through the port of Chittagong, called the Porto Grande or the Great Port. The first church in Bangladesh was built in 1599 at Chandecan (also called Iswaripur or old Jessore) near Kaliganj in the Sundarbans of present Satkhira district.
- 1599: Father Francisco Fernandez went to Chandecan in October, and with permission of Maharaja Pratapaditya 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 at the ceremony.
- 1600: The second church, called "Calvery United Methodist" was built in Chittagong on June 24 by Fathers Francisco Fernandez and Andre Boves with financial assistance from the King of Arakan.
- 1601: At the invitation of Portuguese merchants, Dominican Fathers Gaspar da Assumpsao and Melchior da Luz went to Diang (Dianga), south-east of Chittagong on the Karnaphuli River, and built the third church (chapel) there. When the Arakanese attacked, the chapel was burnt down and missionaries were manhandled, after which the Dominicans left.
- 1602: Francisco Fernandez tried to save some Portuguese children from the Arakanese who had made them slaves. The Arakanese were so enraged that they captured 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.
In 1682, there were 14,120 Roman Catholics in Bangladesh. As the Bangladeshi Muslims have Arabic and Persian surnames, so do the Portuguese-converted Catholics or Catholics of Portuguese blood have Portuguese surnames, such as Gomes, Rozario, D'Costa, Purification, Gonsalvez, Cruze, Daes, D’Silva, D’Souza etc.. To recognize Catholics by names, the missionaries used to give one Christian name and one of their surnames to the newly baptized person. Later Catholic missionaries from Great Britain, Ireland, 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 converted. Presently, the Catholic Church has six dioceses—Dhaka, Chittagong, Dinajpur, Khulna, Mymensingh, 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.
Founded in 1949, Notre Dame College (Dhaka) has earned the reputation for being the best institution for higher secondary education in the country with the highest number of perfect GPA holders in national examination (H.S.C.).
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)
- 2007: Bangladesh Evangelical Church
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.
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 Latin script. 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 jomidar (squire) 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 and attempts to show the superiority of Christianity over Hinduism.
William Carey translated and printed the Bible in Bengali, as well as writing 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 in addition to 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 interest of the Italians for Bengali literature and Bangladesh.
Having worked in Bangladesh as a missionary since 1952, Father Richard William Timm, C.S.C. won the Ramon Magsaysay Award Peace and International Understanding, the Asian Nobel Prize, in 1987 in recognition of his work as biologist, combating parasitic worms, and relief efforts with Caritas (charity).
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 over 99% of the population is Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, running such educational and welfare institutions and organizations under a Christian banner remains difficult.
After the Bangladesh Liberation War, the missionaries sent 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 Bangladeshi Christians
- Patrick D'Rozario, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church of Bangladesh
- Poulinus D'Costa, former Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church of Bangladesh
- Michael D'Rozario, former Archbishop of Bangladesh
- Theotonius Amal Ganguly, 1st Bangaly and former Archbishop of Bangladesh
- 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.
- Michael Shushil Odhikari (1924–97) was a social worker, former President of Bangladesh Baptist Shongho, and former NGO advisor to the Government of Bangladesh during the presidency of Lieutenant General Hossain Mohammad Ershad
- Samson Hossain Chowdhury, Chairman of Square (Bangladesh)
- Promode Mankin is the State Minister of Bangladesh. He was elected as the Member of Jatiyo Sangshad (3 terms) from Mymensingh 1 (Haluaghat Upazila). He belong to the indigenous group known as the Mandi or Garo.
- Andrew Kishore is a popular singer of modern songs and has had many hits as a playback artist in Bangladesh movies.
- Patrick D'Costa is a renowned journalist in Bangladesh. He was elected journalist leader of Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) and Crime Reporters Association of Bangladesh (CRAB). Bangladesh Red Crescent Society life member and Bangla Academy member Patrick D'Costa is now Senior Correspondent of My TV a Satellite Television of Bangladesh . Patrick D'Costa is the first Christian professional journalist in Bangladesh.
- [ChristBD [Bangladesh Christian Resource Center]]
- Buddhism in Bangladesh
- Hinduism in Bangladesh
- Islam in Bangladesh
- Luchesi, Brigitte (1999), "Bangladesh", in Fahlbusch, Erwin, Encyclopedia of Christianity 1, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, pp. 182–183, ISBN 0802824137