Pandemic drives Bangladeshi Pentecostal Christian to Catholic Church

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Native Christians attend different churches, but many turn to the Catholic faith impressed by its spiritual accompaniment

Kaushik Hembrom lost his job as a computer operator at an insurance company in the city of Bogura in northern Bangladesh due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 35-year-old Pentecostal Christian was forced to return to his native village Dighalchan in nearby Dinajpur district where he spent more than a year confined to his house without any spiritual assistance.

He watched his Catholic neighbors attend their parish church and receive pastoral care from priests throughout the prolonged lockdown. But he and his family members had no local church or prayer meeting to attend.

“The Covid-19 pandemic opened my eyes. When we were in the village for about 18 months, we did not receive any religious services because there is no church in our area. And that’s when I decided to join the Catholic Church,” Hembrom, an ethnic Mahali, told UCA News.

Hembrom approached the parish priest of St. Francis of Assisi Church at Dhanjuri in Dinajpur Diocese and expressed his desire to join the Catholic Church.

It is common in Dinajpur, a predominantly tribal diocese for non-Catholic Christians, especially indigenous Pentecostal and Protestant Christians, to join the Catholic Church, said Fr. Marcus Murmu, Diocesan Chancellor.

“Native Christians go to different churches but many, like Hembrom, are returning to the Catholic faith due to a lack of spiritual care,” the priest said.

Every year, the diocese conducts some 1,000 baptisms, 40 percent of which are adult baptisms, Fr. Murmu said.

Kaushik Hembrom (far left) with his colleagues and friends. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)

Each parish runs a program of catechumens beginning during Lent and ending with baptism during the Easter season. Sometimes religious education or training lasts two or three months before a person is initiated into a parish. Such a long training helps to ensure that the person’s intention is spiritual and not for material benefits, the diocesan official said.

Sometimes parishes also hold catechumen programs during the Advent season and adult baptisms take place shortly before Christmas.

Five members of the Hembrom family – Kaushik, his parents and his two younger siblings – prepare to be baptized during the Holy Saturday service on April 16.

The Mahali ethnic family of Hembrom have been members of the Church of God. His older sister joined her husband’s Baptist church after their marriage. Her mother grew up in a Catholic household but became a Pentecostal after her marriage.

“Although we participate in Sunday Mass, we cannot receive Communion. Moreover, if I or my father die now, we will die without communion; our souls will not obtain eternal peace”

In addition to learning catechism, Hembrom and other family members regularly attend Sunday Mass in the Catholic parish and try to assimilate the community life of the parish.

“Although we participate in Sunday Mass, we cannot receive Communion. Moreover, if I or my father die now, we will die without communion; our souls will not obtain eternal peace. This is why I want to become a Catholic as soon as possible,” said Hembrom, who holds a master’s degree in journalism.

He wanted to become a television journalist but is currently working as a receptionist at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Bogura district.

Hembrom said he and his father canceled their family’s Church of God membership and asked to join the Catholic Church. The parish priest himself obtained permission from the parish council, a local church body made up of the parish priest and local Catholics.

“I am now very happy because I will participate fully in Sunday Mass with Communion from Easter Sunday,” he said.


Hembrom Kaushik prays before a statue of Our Lady as he prepares to be baptized. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)

Hembrom’s older sister, Sumona Hembrom, said the family was “in perfect agreement” to join the Catholic Church.

“Since our mother was a member of the Catholic Church, we have a very good idea of ​​faith. Now it’s good that my brothers and my parents are joining the Catholic Church. But since my husband’s family is Baptist, I cannot go to the Catholic Church despite my desire,” Sumona told UCA News.

Hubert Marandy, a Church of God member and friend, said Hembrom was “an active member” of the Pentecostal Church.

“We worked a lot together. Hembrom used to be the youth coordinator in our Church, but now he wants to be a Catholic. I have no problem with that because he is still a Christian worshiping the same Jesus,” Marandy told UCA News.

“Christian denominations are not lacking in Bangladesh. But the Catholic Church is the mother Church and it is very strong in terms of community life and discipline. So I think Hembrom’s decision is the right one.

“Catholic society is very united and as we are a minority, it is important to be united with a community. This is another reason why I came to the Catholic Church.

Hembrom thinks Catholics are pretty good at taking care of their spiritual development compared to non-Catholics.

“In Pentecostal churches, local leaders become the main characters. The Catholic Church is not centered on individuals, but community is important,” he said.

“Catholic society is very united and as we are a minority, it is important to be united with a community. This is another reason why I came to the Catholic Church.

According to the Bangladesh Catholic Yearbook 2019, the Diocese of Dinajpur has a population of some 18 million, of which about 62,000 are Catholics, mostly from indigenous ethnic groups.

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