In an interview with BenarNews, the man recently appointed by Pope Francis as the first-ever Catholic cardinal in Muslim-majority Bangladesh spoke of the country’s tolerant traditions and the importance of keeping religion out of politics.
The pope elevated Patrick D’Rozario, 73, to the rank of cardinal – the second-highest position in the Catholic Church – during a ceremony at the Vatican in November.
During a wide-ranging interview at Arch Bishop House in Dhaka, D’Rozario spoke on the rise of religious extremism in Bangladesh and the world, and stressed the importance of the separation of church and state.
“Problems surface whenever these two mix,” he said. “Let politics be in the place of politics, and religion be in the place of religion.”
The cardinal also touched on the pope’s expected visit to Bangladesh later this year.
BenarNews interviewed D’Rozario in October, after the pope nominated him to become a cardinal. Here is his first interview with BenarNews as cardinal.
BenarNews: How do you feel about being the first Bengali cardinal?
D’Rozario: I am amazed. We are a small Christian society, with 355,000 Catholics. The total number of Christians is 600,000. Considering the number, this is a big achievement.
This [cardinalship] is the personal nomination of the Revered Pope. He desired his 120 conclaves to be universal, not limited to Europe. … Bangladesh is very vulnerable in terms of climate change. Possibly, the Revered Pope wanted to bring Bangladesh’s experience [in this regard] to the church.
BN: Please tell us something about Christians in Bangladesh.
PD: Christians have some important roles, though they are small in number. We have been working in the fields of education and health ... 75 percent of people involved with [the Catholic charity] Caritas are from other religions; they are stakeholders of the same values.
Our schools have students from different communities; 84 percent of students at the Notre Dame College come from rural areas. They cannot afford studying at the good schools in cities. We are following the constitutional directives to serve the underprivileged groups. …
We are the ones who started inter-religious dialogue; now it takes place with state sponsorship. Our position is that churches, though small in number, have been contributing. …
BN: Would you mind talking about religious terrorism in Bangladesh?
PD: The current terrorism is not rooted in our culture. It is an imported concept. We aren’t required to sacrifice our own religions to live here, rather we are living here together with our various religious identity and beliefs. …
The Ramkrishna [Hindu] Mission arranges interfaith dialogues on Christmas Day; this doesn’t happen in other countries. The president hosts receptions at Bangabhaban [President’s House] for religious minorities on their festival days; this is unique.
BN: You have talked about religious tolerance in Bangladesh. But there have been incidents of religious strife and divisions. What would you say about this?
PD: Pakistan was created on the basis of religion. There were so many riots in the name of religion. This is a historical truth. Those riots were for political reasons. We are getting a lesson today.
Why did we seek independence even after the creation of Pakistan? Because the Pakistanis were not in line with our tradition and culture [even though they were Muslim]. This proves that religion alone cannot unite people.
The Wahhabis had influence when Pakistan was created. They demanded a model Islamic country; that didn’t happen. It is not wise to inject religion into politics. This is the truth of history. …
Church and state are different; problems surface whenever these two mix. Let politics be in the place of politics, and religion be in the place of religion. …
BN: Now we are experiencing a global trend of religious extremism. Why?
PD: Secularism emerged as a counter-concept of religious belief. Its basic notion is logic. “Logic says there is no God, so forget about it.” They have ruled out religion. Now, logic without religion and religion without logic are in confrontation. …
Against this backdrop, [Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina propagates the idea of religious pluralism. This is good. Religious ideas will in no way fade away; nobody has the right to obliterate religion.
BN: Pope Francis is supposed to come to Bangladesh. Do you have any updates?
PD: The Revered Pope himself expressed his desire to come. No official date is fixed yet. The formal proposal will come in March.
A team from Vatican will precede [the Pope]. The Honorable Prime Minister has invited [Pope Francis].
The program needs to be fixed in line with India’s. He will stay in Bangladesh for one day or 1 1/2 days. His itinerary includes meetings with the president and the prime minister.
[He] will go to National Mausoleum to show his respect. [We have] plans to organize a prayer for the Christians and an inter-faith conference – it depends upon how much time he can spare.