Italian missionary who established ‘banks of the poor’ in Bangladesh dies at 77

Because of the priest’s “banks for the poor,” many people managed to start small businesses and pay for their children's education

An Italian missionary priest who established cooperative credit unions in parishes across Bangladesh died on Wednesday, August 11, due to complications from COVID-19. He was 77.

A report from AsiaNews said Father Giulio Berutti of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions was recently discharged from the hospital after recovering from the coronavirus disease.

Bishop Sebastian Tudu of the Diocese of Dinajpur said the priest stayed at the PIME house in Dhaka but got sick after three days.

Father Berutti was from Busto Arsizio in northern Italy. He was ordained priest on June 27, 1970, and arrived in Bangladesh as a missionary right after the country’s war of independence.

In Bangladesh, the priest established cooperative credit unions in parishes in the Diocese of Dinajpur.

The institutions offered loans with an annual interest rate of no more than 12 percent, half that of traditional banks and much less than the Grameen Bank of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

Because of the priest’s “banks for the poor,” many people managed to start small businesses, buy a house, and even pay for their children’s education.

Bishop Tudu said that in his diocese alone, Father Berutti was able to establish 20 credit unions.

The priest also established country’s first Catholic nursing facility, the St Vincent Nursing Institute, and introduced health insurance.

“[Father Berutti] was thinking about how to improve the socio-economic condition of the people,” said Bishop Tudu. “He was an exemplary missionary,” said the prelate, adding that the priest’s life “inspired us.”

During his time in Bangladesh, Father Berutti served as pastor in Mariampur, Nijpara, and Pathorghata.

He was also director of the Novara technical school and served at the Dhanjuri Leprosy Centre and the St Vincent Hospital.

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