During his visit to the University of Notre Dame Thursday before Fall Break, His Excellency, Joseph Salvador Marino, Apostolic Nuncio to Bangladesh and Titular Archbishop of Natchitoches, gave a presentation at Moreau Seminary regarding the state of Christianity and Holy Cross missionary work in Bangladesh: “It’s one of my great joys to have known your brothers and sisters … What you have done is truly remarkable and what you are doing is truly inspiring.”
Archbishop Marino began his presentation by describing the economic and religious milieu of the country. About the size of Wisconsin and with 49.6 percent of people living on less than a dollar a day, Bangladesh is home to close to 150,493,658, the majority of whom are Muslim. Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians make up a small percentage of the overall population. Archbishop Marino estimates that there are about 340,000 Catholics and 200,000 Protestants in the nation. Regardless of their small numbers, however, the minority religions enjoy many rights and a peaceful coexistence with Islam.
“Muslims will ask Christians to pray for them and their family,” he said. Religion is not neglected by Bangladeshis and forms an integral part of the life of the people. He observes that there is “a true sense that God is a part of their lives.”
Bangladesh was founded on four principles: nationalism, democracy, socialism, and secularism. Bangladesh is not a “secular” country in the Western sense, but is more spiritually-open than its occidental counterparts. Archbishop Marino explains that Bangladeshis believe “secular” to mean that “there is room and space for every religion,” even if Islam is the state religion, making for a “real sense of harmony in the country.” Major feast days from the four religions are even considered national holidays.
Archbishop Marino describes how the Church in Bangladesh is able to own property, construct churches, and conduct seminary formation. “The Church in Bangladesh is extremely free … [and] has a right to be present in society.”
He points out, however, that the Church must not grow complacent but must renew efforts of evangelization by finding out “how to perfect the religious reality of Bengal with the grace of redemption.” The Archbishop observes that Holy Cross “has created a formula of evangelization for which the Church there operates.”
Direct evangelization in Bangladesh is manifested by Holy Cross’ emphasis on education and its ministry with neglected tribal peoples who are open to the Gospel. Archbishop Marino believes that perhaps Bangladesh might be the last place on Earth where Christians are bearing witness and announcing whose name they are coming in with the intention of baptizing.
The Archbishop defines indirect evangelization in Bangladesh as “bringing the Gospel of Jesus in the very heart of the society.” Through infrastructure like medical clinics and the 700 schools under the direction of the Church, Christians are spreading their faith through works of charity. Within Catholic schools where the majority of students are Muslim, the Church is able to foster interfaith relations by bringing students of different religions together, “treating them with dignity, and giving them a great education with which to transform society.”
“I can’t tell you the number of people who come up to me in admiration for what Holy Cross has done for them,” Marino said to the audience of priests, brothers, and seminarians. “It’s a concrete remembering of men just like you who gave their lives for them.”
The Congregation of Holy Cross has been involved in Bengal since 1853, when Blessed Father Basil Moreau responded to the Holy See’s request for missionaries to East Bengal by sending a priest, a seminarian, three brothers, and three sisters. Leaving in January of that year, it was only in May that the small group arrived in Calcutta.  The area of 13,000 Catholics was ministered to by only three priests, two of whom would die of disease the following year.
Years later, Moreau was falsely accused by some in the Congregation of financial mismanagement and of taking on too many tasks like the East Bengal Mission: “I have been blamed by some for accepting this Mission, on the ground that all the other Congregations had refused it and that no good can be done there.” His desire to make God known, loved, and served, however, would bear fruit in Bengal as a result of the work of his missionaries.
More than 150 years later, Holy Cross continues to maintain an active presence in Bengal, now known as Bangladesh, through its nationally-ranked schools and colleges.
The Archbishop recognizes that while there is a need for improvements in the human and intellectual formation of Bangladeshi seminarians and novices, such concerns also apply to those in the West. “We have to be very well-grounded in what we believe so we can be confident in the work we are doing.” Priests and religious should also work on developing a “spirit of availability,” which enables them to draw others closer to Christ while responding to their needs.

He counseled the Holy Cross community to remain in solidarity with their Bangladeshi brothers and sisters through prayer, correspondence, and concrete support. “I’m not here to tell you to go to Bangladesh; that’s not my job. But if you do, it will change your lives.”

Jeremy Dela Cruz, a second-year seminarian at Old College, who is majoring in French and Philosophy, has just come back from a retreat at St. Joseph’s Priory, where silence is a way of life and not just what occurs after a poorly delivered joke. Contemplate the mystery of God and the art of kneeling in prayer for endless amounts of time with him at pdelacru@nd.edu.