Catholics in Bangladesh: an embattled minority

In Bangladesh, Catholics—who account for just 0.2 percent of the population—have suffered from incidences of violence and persecution. However, the Catholic population continues to grow in the Southern Asian country, where Pope Francis has just established a new diocese.

Catholicism came to the region in the 16th century with the arrival of Portuguese sailors. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh was established in 1971, the same year Bangladesh achieved its independence from Pakistan.

In a nation with a total population of about 150 million, the Bangladeshi Catholic population is 350,669, according to the 2014 Catholic Directory, which also says that there are 367 Catholic priests, 1,051 nuns, and 107 religious brothers, along with 97 parishes and 49 Catholic secondary schools.

Owing to the Portuguese influence, many current-day Bangladeshi Catholics have Portuguese names. However, there is an increase of Catholics with non-Portuguese names, according to “S,” a Catholic journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, who, for security reasons, requested that his full name not be used.

Based on multiple news reports, it appears that anti-Christian attacks are on the increase. Such groups as World Watch Monitor, which reports on persecution of Christians around the world, recently published an article, “More Attacks on Christianity in Bangladesh,” which tells how the country “continues to see a rise in attacks and intimidation” against Christians.

Despite this information, S sees the overall situation as less religiously volatile and contends that the persecution takes place over issues of land. As Bangladesh is a “tiny but overpopulated country,” the price of land is rising, so “some land-grabbers try to occupy Christians’ land illegally,” and this is the motivation behind most anti-Christian persecution.

Perhaps the most infamous anti-Catholic attack took place in June 2001, when a bomb exploded in a Catholic church during Sunday Mass, killing nine and maiming dozens.

More recent attacks include a January 2014 incident, in which homes were set ablaze and eight Catholics were injured, allegedly for exercising their right to vote in the nation’s parliamentary elections. Continue reading


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