News 29 Jun 2022

Bangladesh: building churches is a big challenge due to lack of means

Solomon Hasdak was shocked to see hundreds of people trying to cram inside the small chapel of the village where he grew up.

Then and there, the former police officer decided to provide for the construction of a new church. Hasdak is an exception in a nation where most Catholics are very poor. Aid to the Church in Need has been involved in the construction and rebuilding of almost 60 small chapels and churches in Bangladesh over the last ten years.

Solomon Hasdak was born in Chiargaon in the northern Dinajpur district of Bangladesh but moved away to pursue a successful career with the police. When he returned in 2010, for a funeral, he was upset to find the worshippers struggling to find space in the small, mud-walled chapel.

“Hundreds of Catholics from several villages gathered and jostled for a place to sit, and many were forced to stand outside. The scene stuck in my mind, and I decided to do something about it,” recalls Hasdak, 70.

The village has about 120 Catholics, mostly from ethnic Santal and Oraon communities, and the nearby village has another hundred. Local Catholics gather at the chapel on Sundays to pray and, once or twice a month, a priest from the main parish visits the village to celebrate Mass. During bigger celebrations, such as Easter, Christmas, or funerals most people could only find standing room outside the chapel. 

Hasdak decided to donate some ancestral land for the expansion of the church. He also provided over US$1,000 to get things started. Nonetheless, construction took time. The diocese eventually managed to complete the renovation of the chapel, while Hasdak donated nearly US$3,000 more for electrical fittings, including lights and fans, and some religious and liturgical items, such as two statues, chalices, and ciboria. 

It was hard work, but ten years after the beginning of the project, on January 2022, Bishop Sebastian Tudu blessed and inaugurated the new church, named after St Teresa of Calcutta. Hundreds of faithful attended. The old church could accommodate a maximum of 40 people, but now more than 200 can sit comfortably inside the new building, with its brick walls and tin roof. 

“It is unlikely that I will go back to live in the Chiargaon, but I feel very happy that I was able to help in building the church that has become a symbol of hope and spiritual strength for poor villagers,” says the former police officer. 

Locals like Milon Mardy feel proud to have a new worship space, thanks to the generosity of a son of the village. “The old church was small and dilapidated. Local villagers are poor, they lacked the financial ability for a renovation. We are now proud to have a beautiful church thanks to support from Solomon Hasdak and the diocese”, said Mardy, 27.

Bangladeshi Catholics are a small minority in a majority Muslim nation, and most are poor and live in very remote areas. The people live as day laborers or are peasants with little land, they all live from day-to-day earnings. “Most Catholics are not well-off, so it is rare for Catholic laypeople to finance building a church. Solomon Hasdak’s generosity is remarkable”, Fr Samson Marandy, priest of the diocese says. 

Although it is difficult to find other laymen like Hasdak, who can help so generously, Catholics in Bangladesh very much want to have proper churches to pray in. That is why the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) foundation has financed the construction or renovation of almost 60 churches and chapels in the country over the last ten years. 

Among those projects, several are in the diocese of Dinajpur. In 2021 the foundation supported the renovation of the parish rectory of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Mariampur. This is the main parish, only twelve kilometers (14 miles) from Chiargaon. The foundation also supported the construction of a new chapel in Noyanagar near the Indian border, as the old chapel was in a deplorable state after being flooded in 2017. 

Another example is the construction of a new chapel in Sonka, a hundred kilometers from Mariampur. In this town, the Catholic families and the many catechumens of the place gathered to pray in a small chapel built in 1966, totally in ruins and falling apart. 

- Rock Ronald Rozario & Maria Lozano 

Featured Image: Construction of a chapel at Sonka village. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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