A Catholic priest has disappeared in Bangladesh, police said on Wednesday, as the country stepped up security ahead of a landmark visit by Pope Francis that follows a rise in Islamist attacks on religious minorities.
Walter William Rosario, a 40-year-old priest and headmaster of a Catholic school, went missing on Monday in a village in northern Bangladesh where suspected Islamist extremists last year hacked a Catholic grocer to death. Gerves Rosario, bishop of the nearby city of Rajshahi, said he believed the priest had been kidnapped and that Catholics in the region were deeply worried.
“He was organising for around 300 Catholics to travel to Dhaka to see the Pope and attend his holy mass. But his disappearance has marred their joy. They don’t want to go to Dhaka any more,” he said.
News of his disappearance comes as Bangladesh tightens security in the capital Dhaka ahead of the arrival on Thursday of the first pontiff to visit Bangladesh in more than three decades.
Abducted by Islamists?
Police in Natore district said they had launched a major search for Mr. Rosario after his family reported him missing.
The family received a phone call from someone using the missing man’s number to demand a ransom, but local police chief Biplob Bijoy Talukder said they believed this was a hoax.
They have not ruled out the possibility he was abducted by Islamist extremists, who have carried out attacks on religious minorities in the region in the past four years.
Since 2015, at least three Christians, including two converts from Islam, have been hacked to death in the country in attacks that have been blamed on the militant Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh.