Bangladesh's Christians live in constant fear

The small community has come under attack by Islamists

Updated - November 26, 2017 10:17 pm IST

Published - November 26, 2017 10:13 pm IST - Nagori

Bangladeshi Christian devotees offering prayers at a church at Nagori, near Dhaka.

Bangladeshi Christian devotees offering prayers at a church at Nagori, near Dhaka.

As Bangladesh’s small Catholic community eagerly awaits the first visit by a Pope in more than 30 years, many say it has never been more difficult to practise their faith in the country.

Christian leaders say many have left Bangladesh in recent years as the community increasingly finds itself targeted by Islamists.

Murders last year

Last year two converts from Islam were murdered and a Catholic grocer brutally hacked to death during a campaign by Islamist extremists that also targeted Hindus and other minorities.

Christians make up less than 0.5% of Bangladesh’s 160 million people, but lived for centuries in harmony with the local Muslim majority. They have played a prominent role in the country’s history and even today, schools and hospitals run by Catholic missionaries provide a lifeline for poor communities.

Bidhan Kamol Rosario, who fought for the country’s independence in 1971, is part of a small Catholic community descended from Portuguese traders who settled in Nagori, a small cluster of villages near the capital Dhaka, in the 17th century.

Local Catholics there say they feel increasingly under threat after a spate of attacks by hard-line Islamists targeting religious minorities, foreigners and secular bloggers.

The attacks reached a peak last year, but the situation has improved since a major crackdown in which scores of suspected militants were shot dead and hundreds arrested.

Jayanta Gomes, priest at the Saint Nicholas Tolentino church at Nagori, said he was hopeful that the visit would bring comfort to the community.

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