ACN helps Jesuits open first novitiate in Bangladesh

Thirty years after returning to Bangladesh, the Jesuits are opening a new novitiate on 16 July in the South Asian country, where Christians are a small minority. By allowing the novices to have their initial formation in the local culture and languages, the Jesuits hope to promote vocations.

“A Grace of God.” This is how the Jesuit Mission Superior in Bangladesh, Fr Ripon Rozario SJ, describes the support offered by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). During a visit to the charity’s international headquarters, Fr Ripon explains how thirty years after returning to the country, the Jesuits in Bangladesh are set to inaugurate a new centre to further develop the Society of Jesus and foster new vocations.

Fr. Ripon Rozario, SJ, during a visit to ACN's headquarters in Germany in April 2024
Fr. Ripon Rozario, SJ, during a visit to ACN’s headquarters in Germany in April 2024

A major issue facing the Jesuits in Bangladesh is the formation of new members of the society. In the past, the order sent novices abroad for formation, particularly to neighbouring India. Fr Ripon, for example, studied in India, Ireland and Rome before being ordained in 2013. “A major problem has been the increasing difficulties in getting visas for the novices to study abroad, and other issues with passports and different documents,” says Fr Ripon.

“As Jesuits, we felt it would be good to have the initial formation in the local culture and local languages. We prayed together and decided to start a novitiate in the country,” explains the priest.

A small but vibrant Church

The Jesuits first arrived in Bangladesh in 1576, but for political reasons were forced to leave their mission soon after. “We were only able to reestablish ourselves in the country in 1994, after we were invited by the Bangladeshi Catholic bishops to return,” says the mission superior. There are now 28 Jesuits in Bangladesh, the vast majority of whom are Bangladeshi.

“We run two schools, a retreat house, various spiritual and pastoral programmes, and a youth ministry called Magis Bangla,” Fr Ripon explains. The order also runs a parish with four mission stations for the tribal people. “There are Jesuits who are from a tribal background,” he explains to ACN, allowing them to speak to the people in their own language.

Jesuit Novitiate in Bangladesh at Mothbari Gazipur
Jesuit Novitiate in Bangladesh at Mothbari Gazipur

Christians are a small minority in Bangladesh, which is majority Muslim. “Bangladesh is a small but densely populated country, with more than 170 million people,” says Fr Ripon. “There are approximately 500,000 Christians in Bangladesh, around 300,000 of whom are Catholics.” The Catholic Church “has contributed immensely to the country,” according to the priest, “particularly in the fields of health and education”.

“The Bangladeshis are religious-minded people,” he explains. “The Church is quite vibrant, and we have numerous charitable activities.” Many young Catholic grow up seeing the spiritual and social services offered by the Church and are inspired to become Jesuits. “We already had four novices in our novitiate programme with six more joining in June,” says Fr Ripon, who also serves as the society’s Novice Master in the country.

“The Church in Bangladesh comes from a poor background and has very little resources,” explains Fr Ripon. The Jesuits appealed to ACN to support the construction of the new novitiate. The charity “immediately responded saying that they would help us,” says the priest, with the new novitiate set to open on 16 July.

Fr Ripon offers his thanks to ACN’s benefactors: “It is because of your generous support that we are completing the construction, and in the coming years, with the facilities of the new novitiate, we hope to get more vocations. So, thank you for all the support that you have given to the Bangladesh Jesuit Mission through ACN.”

 

By Conn McNally.
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