A solemn mass was held in the parish of Tejgaon, attended by former freedom fighters and Catholics who sheltered thousands of Hindus. „We fought for the values of democracy, secularism, socialism, nationalism,“ a Catholic said. Four Catholic martyrs were remembered.
Dhaka Catholics yesterday celebrated a solemn Mass in Holy Rosary Church in Tejgaon to mark Bangladesh’s Independence Day. Some 300 people attended the service.
Various groups marked the solemn occasion laying wreaths of flowers at the national mausoleum in Savar.
In addition to sheltering thousands of Hindus during the struggle for national liberation, Christians also paid with their lives their support for the values of freedom and democracy, values which, some Catholics complain, are still unheeded in many parts of the country. Those martyrs were remembered in yesterday’s ceremonies.
Born 48 years ago out of a bloody civil war, Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) today is home to more 160 million people. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, proclaimed the country’s independence on 26 March 1971, which was finally secured on 16 December 1971.
Reacting to the proclamation, Pakistani forces engaged in genocide against the local population, in an apparent religious fight between Pakistani Muslims and Bangladeshi Hindus. An estimated three million people were killed, at least 200,000 women were raped and thousands of homes set on fire.
The Christian community suffered too during the violent war of liberation waged. About a thousand Christians joined the armed struggle.
Yesterday during Mass Fr Kamal Corraya, pastor of the church in Tejgaon, mentioned the fighters who died for the country, including 15 Christian freedom fighters and 150 civilians.
During the war hundreds of Hindu temples were torched and dozens of priests, intellectuals and leaders massacred. The dead include two Catholic missionaries – Fr William Evans, a Holy Cross missionary from the United States, and Fr Mario Veronesi, a Xaverian clergyman from Italy, as well as a local priest, Fr Lucas Marandi of the diocese of Dinajpur, and a nun.
Sister Mary Nibedita, who was a teacher during the war, attended the service. „At that time, we sheltered many Hindus in our church,” she said. “We saved the lives of thousands of people, cared for wounded fighters, fed the hungry.“
Today the nun works as a nurse. „Catholics have played a fundamental role in building a peaceful country. However, we see that conflict is still within us. This is not the country that our founders wanted.“
William Atul Kuluntunu is catholic and a former freedom fighter. „We fought for clear goals: democracy, secularism, socialism, nationalism. Today all these values are absent. Secularism does not exist, and nobody talks about socialism. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We dreamt of a peaceful country, but our dream has not yet come true.“
Still, „since the War of Independence, the country has improved a lot,” notes Fr Corraya. Even “Biharis (Pakistanis) live among us as Bengalis and there are no conflicts.”
„The people of Bangladesh have a big heart. Whilst rich countries do not welcome migrants, in Bangladesh we welcome refugees. In this country, people live in harmony.”