Christians in northern Bangladesh marked last week the centennial of the migration of Bhawal Christians and the arrival of the faith in the region.
“It’s a grace of God for us that we, Bhawal Christians, passed one hundred years in North Bengal,” said Bishop Gervas Rozario in his message during the celebration.
“It was not easy to live here when our ancestors came first from Bhawal area,” he said, adding that “day by day people adopted with the environment.”
The prelate noted that through the years, the people developed economically, and family values were formed through education.
“We have to try to keep this spirit and to encourage the next generation to also contribute to integral development,” said Bishop Rozario.
About a century ago, Bengali Catholics from Bhawal, one of Bangladesh’s largest and oldest Catholic strongholds, migrated to Pabna and Natore districts to escape poverty.
The migrants established six Catholic parishes, two in Pabna and four in Natore.
Altogether, these parishes have 14,000 mostly Bengali Catholics, collectively called “neo-Bhawal” in a reference to their original roots. They now belong to the Rajshahi Diocese, a predominantly indigenous area with 67,700 Catholics.
The Bhawal area of Dhaka is a collective of eight parishes with more than 40,000 Catholics who make up one of the country’s major Catholic bastions.
Christianity in the area dates back to the 17th century when Catholic missionaries arrived.
Migrant Bengali Catholics in Rajshahi trace the roots of their Christian faith and associated their culture back to Bhawal.
The migration of Bengali Catholics to northern Bengal started in the 1920s.
Land in the area was cheaper than in Bhawal, so they invited their relatives to come and settle in the area.
The exodus continued in the following decades and hundreds of mostly poor Catholics from other parishes of Bhawal settled in Pabna and Natore.
“We are very thankful to God for giving us the blessing of a hundred years,” said Father Dilip S. Costa, one of those spearheading the celebration this year.