Caritas Internationalis marks 50 years of Caritas Bangladesh with visit
By Robin Gomes
Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Aloysius John is currently on a 6-day visit to Bangladesh on the occasion of 50 years of service of Caritas Bangladesh, the social service and development agency of the Catholic Church in the country.
The Rohingya refugees
During the February 21 to 26 visit, Caritas Asia President Benedict Alo D’Rozario, a Bangladeshi, and other Caritas Bangladesh officials are accompanying John to the various sites where Caritas is running its projects. This included visits to the camps of Cox’s Bazar where the Rohingya people, who are largely Muslim, have been offered refuge after they fled the brutality and persecution of government forces in neighbouring Myanmar.
On February 22 and 23, the Caritas team visited the Rohingya in Camp-4 and Camp-4 Extension in Cox’s Bazar district, in what has been described as the world’s largest settlements where the Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs) are housed.
John, who is on his 3rd trip to Bangladesh, spoke to the refugees and inspected the interventions of Caritas Bangladesh under the Emergency Response Programme (ERP) that has been going on for FDMNs since the massive influx in 2017, said a press release. The Caritas official visited activities at the Multipurpose Children and Adolescent Centre (MCAC), shelter construction and Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WaSH) interventions in the camps. The executive director of Caritas Bangladesh Sebastian Rozario, director of programmes James Gomes and project director Marcel Ratan Guda were also present during the visit.
Giving dignity and hope
According to John, an estimated one million Rohingya refugees are in Cox Bazar. Some 100,000 of them are being taken care of by Caritas. He described it as “a well-structured action” that aims to give “dignity and a sense of life to the displaced who have undergone a lot of hardship”.
He said that the boys, girls, men and women he met at the camps were “full of life looking to the future with hope, with the support they receive from Caritas Bangladesh”, such as through psycho-social support, food, basic necessities and healthcare.
John expressed gratitude to Caritas Bangladesh for providing him the opportunity to “have this encounter with those who have been left on the wayside of our society in total indifference”.
The President of Caritas Internationalis, Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle visited the Rohingya refugee camps twice. His first visit was in December 2018. He made it again in July the following year along with Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) as well as of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
Pope Francis and the Rohingya
The CI secretary-general recalled how close to the heart of Pope Francis is the issue of the refugees, the displaced, and the migrants of the world. During his visit to Bangladesh in 1917, the Holy Father met a group of Rohingya refugees during an interfaith peace meeting in the capital Dhaka.
“All of us are close to you,” the Pope told the group of 16 refugees on December 1, 2017. “There is little that we can do because your tragedy is so great. But let us make room in our hearts. In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, of those who have wronged you, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask your forgiveness. Forgiveness.”
"The presence of God today is also called Rohingya," he said, urging, “May each of us respond in his or her own way.”
Projects for the Rohingya
Caritas Bangladesh started working widely for Rohingya people in Cox's Bazar since the massive influx in August 2017 through providing shelter, food, and non-food items including site improvement, WASH, Protection, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), and education in 12 camps of FDMNs in Ukhiya Upazila in Cox's Bazar.
John, who is visiting other projects of Caritas Bangladesh, also paid a courtesy call to Archbishop Bejoy D’Cruze of Dhaka who is President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB).
50 years of Caritas 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 eight 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.
It runs 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.
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 hands 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. That year, 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.
This is a difficult issue, continues Aloysius John, "and a controversial one". He asks what funds might be made available by the International community to help these refugees resettle and find themselves in a normal situation.