By Francis Sunil Rosario
If Bangladesh can claim a strong local Church with native leadership in all its dioceses, much of the credit should go to the missionary endeavors of the Holy Cross Fathers from the United States, who served the country since 1852.
Even before the Second Vatican Council these Missionaries envisioned and worked for a strong local Church in Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh should be proud that such dedicated missionaries lived selflessly among them to help God’s reign in their land.
Among the prominent missionaries Father Richard W. Timm stands out. He was sent to Bangladesh in 1952. After serving Bangladesh until 2016 he returned to the United States, his homeland, where he lives South Bend, Indiana in Holy Cross home of the Emeritus clergy.
It is a home for missionaries who have served the Church in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
Father Timm had a prophetic mission in Bangladesh. From being a scientist and professor in the University of Notre Dame, he became a barefoot missionary who worked for integral development and human rights. During the most turbulent times of Bangladesh he stood as rock to protect its people.
When millions were affected by the deadly cyclone, he came out of his cozy academic circles to reach out to the poor and the most deprived. A turning point in his life was the “Bhola cyclone” on November 12, 1970 that devastated Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and India’s West Bengal. The deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, claimed at least 500,000 lives as much of the low-lying islands of the Ganges Delta was inundated.
Father Timm responded to the human suffering from such natural disasters –cyclones, floods, hurricanes and other environmental disasters.
He launched a movement that freed people from various types of bondage, both political and economic. When the Bangladesh Liberation war began in 1971, he remained at the forefront to fight against injustices. He was pro-life. His contemporary companion was St. Teresa of Calcutta, or Mother Teresa, who also became a force to move mountains with her faith.
When the military carried on with the sterilization program forcibly he opposed it. He reached out to the Senators in the U. S. to speak up those atrocities inflicted on the innocent women. He was able to stop those organized plans to sterilize women during war. In his memoir, “40 years of Service in Bangladesh” he has recorded his missionary endeavors since 1970.
Father Timm launched relief and rehabilitation programs for the displaced soon after the war ended in December 1971. He became an icon of relief for those who suffered displacement in the war-torn country. His memoir recounts numerous accounts of his commitment to rebuild Bangladesh that gave a new direction to all people.
Fr. Timm is known as the Father of the NGOs” because he was associated with the NGO movement since its inception in Bangladesh. He was instrumental to build Caritas Bangladesh. He had initiated the process to build Credit Unions all over Bangladesh to make the Church self-sufficient and self-supportive. He gave the impetus for the formation of ADAB (The Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh), CCHRB (The Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh) and SAFHR (South Asian Forum for Human Rights). He was the consultant for Caritas and was on the Board of several major Caritas projects and of other NGOs as well.
Building on Human resources he thought would be right way to protect the rights of the people. When the Church hierarchy and the government hesitated to launch plans to protect people’s rights during the crisis periods, he boldly took up steps that benefited human rights and development.
Fr. Timm believes in the power of the Word of God. His faith was like the mustard seed that had the power to move mountains. In his action-oriented programs for development, he showed to all how the impossible could become possible when human resources are pooled and every one joined with a common goal towards building humanity and peace. For him it was a mission to build God’s Kingdom with the power of God.
The Church remains just 0.03 percent of the Bangladesh population. But the Church has immense capabilities and capacity to move mountains and to cross difficult path to freedom.
What was his strategy?
He believed in people’s potentialities, their strength and resources. Building up human resources was his strategy. The present Church leadership struggles to accomplish what he had contributed during those 23 years as an active leader and pastor. His presence made a difference to the public. A man of integrity, his strategy was to involve leaders of all faith communities for a common agenda. Through dialogue helped build peace among all people of different faith and culture. Relieving people from various types of suffering and afflictions required common endeavors. He managed to pool those resources for the benefit of all.
At 96 now, he wants the people of Bangladesh to tap human resources and build teams consisting of various religious and cultural traditions for the benefit of humanity. His message to all is to translate faith into action. Both government organizations and Church leaders should march forward to build common endeavors to bring peace in the country and beyond.
Bangladesh will be ever indebted to him for the selfless services he rendered to build Bangladesh from infancy through 2016. May God bless him always.
Other missionaries who served Bangladesh in various capacities are Fathers Gene Homrich and David Burrell, and Brothers Ronald Christenson, Rodney.
Fr. Homrich served Bangladesh for 62 years since 1955. He built mission in Garo Hills. He was indirectly instrumental to build the diocese of Mymensingh. He had baptized the present Bishop of Mymensing, Ponen. He promoted numerous local vocations to religious life and priesthood. Mother Teresa encouraged him for his missionary zeal and work among the Garo Hills communities.
There are many other CSC missionaries from America who dedicated their lives for the cause God’s Kingdom in the Gangetic land. Many heard the call of God inspired by the dedicated services of those missionaries.
The first Bengali archbishop was late Archbishop Theotonius A. Ganguly. Pope Francis has honored the Church in Bangladesh by giving its first cardinal Patrick D’Rozario. Archbishop Moses Costa of Chittagong is another native prelate.
These native prelates assure the Holy Cross Fathers that their mission for God’s greater glory has been accomplished.