Bröderna i Bangladesh

Ett besök i Thanarbaid

Bröder från Taizé har bott i olika delar av Bangladesh sedan 1974. Nyligen flyttade de till en by i Thanarbaid, i Forest of Modhupur. En broder som har varit på besök där berättar här på engelska.

With another brother, we took part in a Church of Bangladesh St Andrew’s Day pilgrimage to Panihata in the north on the border with India. We went with a group from the parish of Thanarbaid by bus. Almost all the pilgrims were from the indigenous Garo people, very present in this area.

Bishop Mankhin, moderator of the Church was there and it all started at dusk with a Way of the Cross on the small hill which became a shrine founded by Bishop Mondol, the first bishop of the new Church after independence and who loved Taizé very much.

Each person held a candle and at each station there was a Bible reading, a prayer, a song and also the evocation of the witnesses of the faith who participated in the mission in this part of the world. It was very beautiful. At the last station, the bishop asked us brothers to pray.

Everyone in that area is afraid of the elephants that come at night from India to eat the rice in the paddy fields that lay on their transit route. They can even destroy houses in the villages in search of food. A group of volunteers kept watch during the night of the pilgrimage and fortunately managed to keep the elephants out of the enclosure. The night before it was the pastor and his wife who chased them away....

Ruma and the Mikrakbo Youth Pastoral group, set up with the help of the brothers, came to Panihata for the pilgrimage. "Mikrakbo" means "Wake up!" in a-chik, the language of the Garos. They are often called on to lead worship. When Pope Francis visited Bangladesh in 2019, they represented Mymensingh diocese during the celebration.

On Tuesday there was the Eucharist presided over by the bishop with lots of joyful singing and the St Andrew’s Day readings. A pastor preached and then we should talk about Taizé in France, as they say here, and the welcome of young people. As we said "Jishu Narashong", "Glory to Jesus" in a-chik, the faces lit up. This is an annual pilgrimage but last year there were very few pilgrims because of the pandemic. What a celebration to be together again! In the afternoon we left with the parishioners, passing through Baromari, the Catholic Marian pilgrimage site - that’s how we live here!

At the fraternity, the transformation work continues. One brother is raking up leaves and planting flowering shrubs everywhere. Another is sawing wood for the kitchen fire. A third, assisted by me and another brother visiting from Taizé, is building brick paths through the compound. The chapel sits centrally in the compound, visible from everywhere as a reminder that prayer is at the heart of the life here.

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The young people who live with the brothers and from the village do different tasks around the site. A team of workers led by Bronson, known to the brothers since a long time, finish the construction of buildings. They have just finished the sanitary block, just in time for the arrival of 5 future Church of Bangladesh pastors who are coming for a few days retreat.

There is no shortage of children. They come from the village, but there is also a Korean missionary couple here who were in Mymensingh and who take in children in need. They liked the prayer so much – the children too – that they decided to follow the brothers to Thanarbaid. They moved to a new house next door. This adds something to the life of the fraternity.

A long conversation with Holi about her prison ministry in the Greater Mymensingh area prisons was a call to prayer. Many of the prisoners have little support. Some do not want to receive visitors, but others are overjoyed to have someone who can listen to them and pray together with them. They understand that they are not forgotten. We will pray for them in Taizé.

Some members of Mikrakbo came to the fraternity to help with cooking and preparations for the visit from Mymensingh L’Arche Community. Started by the brothers as a home for disabled children before becoming part of L’Arche International, their presence served as a reminder of the 30 years that the brothers spent in Mymensingh. 60 people of different abilities were in the group and came for midday prayer and lunch. In the afternoon there was a tug-of-war and a various games between L’Arche and Thanarbaid. Of course, L’Arche won! And prizes were given out by the local nurse and the wife of the buffalo-cart owner who lives next to the fraternity…

Before returning to Taizé, I visited Mymensingh to see the people involved on different projects that the brothers helped set up over the years:
- Hanif continues faithfully to lead the Station Club, a club for children who live at the station or in the shanty town that has grown around it. Each afternoon, they are welcomed for a few hours, to draw, dance, recite poetry, sing and be children, something which is not so easy in their daily existence. During the lockdown, Hanif went down to the station and saw no-one but children and people with disabilities around. They said they were hungry. He had 250 Thaka (2.5€) in his pocket and went and bought as many biscuits as he could to give out to them. Over the next days, children came up to Hanif with 5 Thaka, 10 Thaka, … to pay him back. And as a result, the Station Club was able to cook rice for those in need over the next month. What solidarity!
- Shefali runs the carpet workshop, where women with different disabilities work making carpets from old saris and local wool. You sense the dignity and pride they feel through their activity. This film shows their activities.
- Mita and Tahamina, both disabled women, at the AROWHI Centre look after a team of seamstresses who make various articles – clothing, cloth bags, embroidery – for sale.
- Graner leads the Protibondi Community Centre, a hive of activity offering support for young people with disabilities in Mymensingh and the surrounding area. They are also looking at working with the Rohynga refugees in the south of the country.
- St George’s Chapel, where the brothers lived before, is now a Church of Bangladesh student hostel, but the pastor there maintains prayer three times a day for the students and others who wish to take part.

It was a joy to see these projects continuing with local people stepping up to take on responsibility for their running.

Flights require PCR tests these days and that meant spending a few days in Dhaka before returning to France. That gave a chance to visit the Apon drug rehabilitation centre in Manikganj District.

Run by the Holy Cross Brothers, it welcomes children, youth and also adults who suffer from addiction to drugs, alcohol, glue-sniffing and other substances. They follow a strict programme over six months based on the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous. It was very striking to hear them tell so openly about their stories, which spoke volumes about the atmosphere of trust set up by the Holy Cross Brothers and staff members.

So many signs of hope….

Sista uppdateringen: 27 Februari 2022