By Robin Gomes
Caritas Bangladesh is marking 50 years of service this year. The social service arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) kicked off its year-long golden jubilee programme with an event on November 25 at Hotel Shaikat in the southeastern port city of Chittagong.
The celebration began with a colourful morning rally from Saint Placid’s School and College premises to Hotel Shaikat. The programme included the hoisting of the national and Caritas flags, release of balloons and doves with festoons, planting of trees, launch of a photo gallery, prayers and lighting of candles, discussions, screening of a video documentary and cultural events.
Several Church dignitaries including Cardinal Patrick D’ Rozario, Archbishop-emeritus of Dhaka, Bishop Ramen Bairagi of Khulna, president of Caritas Bangladesh, Archbishop Bejoy D'Cruze of Dhaka and Archbishop Lawrence Subrata Howlader of Chattogram joined Caritas executive director Sebastian Rozario and other Catholic officials, civil authorities and faithful for the inaugural programme.
Earlier on November 12, Caritas Bangladesh held an event in Dhaka to launch the logo and song on the theme: “50 years’ Journey with Love and Service”. The celebrations across the country will culminate in October 2022.
The origin of what is Caritas Bangladesh today began in 1967 as Caritas East Pakistan in what was then Pakistan’s eastern province. Following the cyclone of November 1970, which caused widespread havoc in the coastal areas, the Diocese of Chittagong (today Chattogram) set up the Christian Organization for Relief and Development (CORD). Later, under growing demand for relief work CORD and Caritas joined to form the Christian Organization for Relief and Rehabilitation CORR.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh War of Independence broke out in 1971 and ended with the defeat of Pakistan on December 16, giving way to the birth of the new nation of Bangladesh. Also in 1971, the bishops of Bangladesh who earlier were members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan formed their own Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh, CBCB.
On June 19, 1972, the new government of Bangladesh recognized CORR as a national organization. In 1976, CORR began to be called CORR-Caritas. The following year, CORR was dropped from the name and was simply called Caritas. On February 7, 1980, Caritas was registered as a charitable organization with the government of Bangladesh.
Caritas Bangladesh is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. Headquartered in the capital Dhaka, Caritas Bangladesh has 8 regional or diocesan offices. It is active in 208 sub-districts in 53 of the country’s 64 districts, where it focuses on integral human development, disaster management and human resource development.
Caritas Bangladesh today is running 112 projects for about 1.6 million beneficiaries. It also operates 10 training centres, 248 cyclone centres, 11 technical schools, 32 tuberculosis centres and leprosy treatment centres, two drug treatment centres and 36 daycare centres. It also supports sex workers and street children. During emergencies, such as natural disasters, Caritas reaches out to any part of the country.
Commitment to justice and peace
Programme director James Gomes said Caritas aims to gain the support of more individuals and organizations to build an egalitarian, just and peaceful society that encourages the new generation to love their neighbours and serve the poor, regardless of faith, ethnicity or language.
“In the light of the social teachings of the Church," he pointed out, "Caritas Bangladesh envisions a society which embraces the values of freedom, justice, peace and forgiveness, allowing all to live as a communion and community of mutual love and respect." He said Caritas is working to promote development and quality education that is inclusive, improve the living standards of indigenous peoples and encourage ecological conservation.