Bangladesh: 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr Angelo Maggioni

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Bangladesh: 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr Angelo MaggioniDhaka (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church in Bangladesh today, 14 August, marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr Angelo Maggioni, an Italian-born missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), shot to death in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Andharkota, a parish in Rajshahi, during an attempted robbery at 1 am on 14 August 1972.

Bullet marks still dot the walls and the cupboards in his house, silent witness to the martyr. To remember him, the faithful in Andharkota held a prayer for him.

Fr Sunil Daniel Rozario, a local diocesan priest, spoke to AsiaNews on the anniversary of his death.

“PIME missionaries have made an exceptional contribution to the Catholic Church in this country,” he said.

“When I first met Fr Maggioni, I was a youth, a schoolboy. He was a very simple person, but for me he was a great missionary. He always rode his bicycle to visit Catholic villages,” explained the 71-year-old clergyman.

Fr Maggioni was born on 14 June 1917 in Trezzo sull'Adda, Milan province, northern Italy. Ordained a priest at the age of 22 for PIME in 1939, he could not leave immediately for the missions, because of the outbreak of the Second World War.

He finally arrived in Bangladesh on 14 November 1948. At the time, the country was called East Pakistan, and he was eager to bring hope to local missionaries who had been isolated for years.

In his first mission in Ruhea, in the Diocese of Dinajpur, he discovered the utter poverty of the people. “They were malnourished and constant victims of the extreme heat or flooding typical of the region," he would say.

Going from home to home, he won over the hearts of the people with his simple life; he was fluent in the Bangla and Santali languages. After Ruhea he served in Mariampur, at the cathedral of Dinajpur, in Bonpara, and finally Andharkota.

His legacy includes a number of schools. Together with Fr Luigi Verdelli, another PIME missionary, he founded the St Joseph's School and College, in Bonpara (Natore), one of the best educational facilities in the northern part of the country, with currently more than 2,000 students, mostly Muslims.

During Bangladesh’s War of Liberation in 1971, Fr Angelo was appointed local pastor in Andharkota, where he took care of some 40 villages scattered across the territory of his parish.

The mission became a centre of collection and distribution of food, especially for the many refugees returning from India.

Eventually, he became a target for armed bandits who roamed the countryside. He was killed at his mission residence on 14 August 1972. He was 55 years old, 25 of which he spent as a missionary in Bangladesh.

His body was buried in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Andharkota. Bangladeshis still remember him with love and respect.

Fr Maggioni was not the only missionary to give his life for the Gospel in those difficult years.

Before him, on 13 November 1971, during the War of Liberation, bandits shot to death Fr William P Evans, an American missionary of the Holy Cross, while he was on his way to the missionary centre in Bakshanagar, Dhaka.

On 4 April 1971, Palm Sunday, Italian Xaverian missionary Fr Mario Veronesi was killed in Jessore by two Pakistani soldiers.

In the same city, in the south-western part of the country, another Italian Xaverian missionary, Fr Valeriano Cobbe, was also killed, on 14 October 1974.

These lives given to martyrdom did not stop the mission in Bangladesh, a country of 160 million, where Christians are just 0.3 per cent of the population.

At present, 18 PIME missionaries from Italy, Brazil, Cameroon, and India carry out their ministry in the South Asian country, PIME’s current regional superior, Fr Michele Brambilla, told AsiaNews. Thanks to their preaching, many people are baptised every year.

PIME missionaries also founded a seminary in Bangladesh. Today, the institute has six local missionaries proclaiming the Gospel in other countries. This is a visible sign of how the lives donated by Fr Angelo and the other martyrs have borne fruit in this land.

by Sumon Corraya