Pope Francis Names Bangladesh’s First Catholic Cardinal

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
161011-BD-cardinal-620.jpg Catholic Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario stands outside the Kakrail Church in Dhaka, Oct. 11, 2016.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury/BenarNews

Bangladesh’s first Catholic cardinal says his nomination will enhance inter-faith harmony in the predominantly Muslim country where he has served for more than four decades, most recently as archbishop of Dhaka.

Pope Francis on Sunday named Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario, 73, and 16 other archbishops as new cardinals, at the end of a special Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The new cardinals will formally be elevated at a meeting of the church’s College of Cardinals on Nov. 19, according to news reports.

D’Rozario heads the church in majority Sunni Muslim Bangladesh, where Christians form a tiny minority – less than half of 1 percent out of a total population of 160 million. The nation’s 400,000 Catholics dominate the Christian population, which numbers around 550,000, according to Bangladesh’s Christian Association.

Bangladesh has largely enjoyed inter-religious harmony during its 45 years as a nation, but Catholics, Christians and members of other religious minorities have been targeted since last year in sporadic acts of violence perpetrated by Muslim zealots.

“This is not my personal recognition, rather it is an achievement for all of Bangladesh,” D’Rozario told BenarNews, adding that Pope Francis was expected to visit the South Asian country next year.

“Bangladesh is a small country with few Christians … and far away from the Vatican, but we have been nurturing our long standing inter-religious harmony here for centuries,” he said.

‘A pinch of salt’

The rank of cardinal is the second highest in the Catholic church next to the pontiff. Because he is under 80 years old, D’Rozario, under the Vatican’s rules, will be allowed to participate in the College of Electors that will pick the pope’s future successor.

The new class includes another Asian, Msgr. Anthony Soter Fernandez, the emeritus archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s first-ever cardinal. But he is older than 80 and won’t be allowed to elect a new pope.

Archbishop D’Rozario said Christians in Bangladesh had been working as “salt” in Bangladeshi society.

“For instance, you need a pinch of salt in a big plate of rice, but you will not get the taste without it. You do not need to be big always. My nomination as cardinal is papal recognition that we may be small but not a trifle,” D’Rozario said.

In the face-to-face interview in Dhaka on Tuesday, the soon-to-cardinal spelled out the contributions that Catholics and Christians had made to Bangladesh.

“We Christians have been contributing to Bangladesh’s development process through setting up schools, hospitals and other service-oriented entities for all faiths,” he said.

D’Rozario pointed out that 90 percent of the students at Catholic missionary schools nationwide represent different faiths, and these schools have earned great recognition.

“Every guardian wants their children to get admitted to our schools, which teach children to develop and practice mutual respect, human values and tolerance. For example, we enroll 50 percent of students at the Notre Dame College in Dhaka from rural areas. The mixture of students from the indigenous communities, minority faiths and well-off families helps create the culture of tolerance and mutual respect among the students,” he said.

Countering militancy

The archbishop also talked about a wave of militancy that has gripped the country in recent years and erupted in attacks against members of religious minorities and other people.

“We see militancy and extremism in Bangladesh because the country’s education system has not been promoting the culture of mutual respect and tolerance. I have told this to the honorable home minister [Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal], who sought my opinion on the probable cause of militancy in Bangladesh,” D’Rozario said.

Unlike the Catholic missionary schools in Bangladesh, general education institutions have not focused on teaching students to develop human values, mutual respect and tolerance, he said.

“I am shocked to see that Class Seven students have been demonstrating in the street, chanting slogans demanding capital punishment. This word ‘capital punishment’ will certainly create brutality among the children. They should ask for justice instead of a death sentence,” D’Rozario said.

Catholic family values could counter terrorism and militancy, he said.

“Look at every case of youths who became militants – they deserted their families. Our pope has clearly stated that Islam cannot be blamed for terrorism and militancy,” D’Rozario said.

“Around the world, the culture of destruction has been pervasive. When there is fighting and confrontation, there is revenge. Nobody wins a war,” D’Rozario said. “The practice of glorifying war begets militancy.”

He said he hoped that his nomination would help him maintain strong communication with government leaders, pointing out that Christians in the 1980s initiated inter-religious dialogue for peaceful coexistence of all faiths in Bangladesh. Since then, the government has been implementing dialogues as means to promote religious harmony.

D’Rozario praised Home Minister Kamal for maintaining close communications with Christians and other minority faiths.

‘We are not forgotten’

Christians are rejoicing at the archbishop’s elevation to cardinal.

Nirmal Rozario, general secretary of Bangladesh’s Christian Association, thanked Pope Francis for recognizing Bangladesh.

“This is a historic and epoch-making event not only for Christians, but also for the whole country. Our archbishop is now a cardinal. We are grateful to the revered Pope,” Rozario told BenarNews.

The archbishop’s elevation demonstrated the importance of Bangladesh to the Vatican, he added.

A leader from Bangladesh’s Hindu minority shared the joy.

“This is not only the achievement of Christians, but also of the whole country irrespective of faiths. We have congratulated him on this success,” Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian association, the country’s flagship association of minority communities, told BenarNews.

For Catholic priests in Bangladesh, the announcement is good news following recent insecurity facing minorities in Bangladesh.

Last October, a pastor in northwestern Bangladesh survived an attack when strangers entered his home and attempted to slit his throat. Six weeks later, an Italian priest was shot and wounded by gunmen on a motorbike in northern Dinajpur district.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2015, the Christian community and churches across the country received 28 threats, Rozario said.

“Christian community members have come under militant attacks. Nominating the cardinal from Bangladesh at this time means that we are not forgotten,” Catholic priest Khokom Vincent Gomes told BenarNews.


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