We realised that we have not been here at this time of the year before when we received an email from one of the religious sisters based in Taize this week inviting us to participate in the pray for unity held last night in Taize. We began at 6pm with a meeting led by brother Franck who is originally Dutch but has worked out in Bangladesh for the last 30 years with 5 other Taize brothers.The work began in 1974 in Chittagong, then in Dacca and since 1987 they have been in Mymensingh.
Right from the start they have placed much emphasis on the young; setting up
small schools for the poor – at the moment there are seven of these; finding
ways to support students in their studies; organising meetings for prayer and
reflection, regularly in different parts of the country; one of the brothers has
been teaching in the major seminary in Dhaka for nearly thirty years.
An important preoccupation that has emerged through the years is
with people who are disabled, through the “Community Centre for the Handicapped”
and through the pilgrimages for the disabled and for persons with differing
mental capacities, which the brothers organise in different parts of the
The brothers work not only with Bengalis but also
with people from the various tribes, especially in the villages; they try to
promote understanding between Christians of different denominations, with people
of different faiths.
When they first arrived they were asked by the local Muslims and Hindus"What are you going to do here?" They responded with a question "What would you like us to do?" And so began the ministry to handicapped young people - those that no-one else wanted to help - brought to the brothers off the side of the road.
We saw a wonderful film to illustrate what brother Franck had been telling us about. 160 million people live in Bangladesh. The majority of people are Muslims followed by Hindus and then Christians from various denominations Catholics through to Pentecostals.
Some Muslims and Hindus come to the prayers which like in Taize, are three times a day. There is a small church where the brothers live - it was a disused Anglican church before.
Those for whom the brothers care have various skills and we saw a wonderful young man who paints with his feet and mouth after an accident in his village when he touched a live electric cable with his hands and lost them and his arms. His skill was amazing. Some make beautiful cards, first laying pieces of straw down and flattening them completely. Then motives are cut out from the flattened straw and they are mounted on to cards. The paintings too are made into cards as well as remaining as paintings. Others make candles and we bought a couple so we can continue to remember the work of these people who often in the world's eyes have nothing to offer.
At the beginning and end we sang Taize songs in Bengali! We were also taught to greet one another in Bengali. Apparently it is easy to know which denominations Christians come from by the greeting they offer when they meet you. The protestants say "Emmanuel", and Catholics "Pronam Jesu".
We sang the following chants - who can work out which 2 they are?
Djetai onurag o Bhalohassa
djetai onurag, Ishoro Shetai
Jiso Christo moder ontorer alo
Moner ondokarke khotto bolte dio na.
Jiso Christo moder ontorer alo
tomar pre amai grohon korte dao.
Following the meeting we went into church with the bells ringing out over the snow-clad valley and along with the Roman Catholic bishop from the diocese, Bishop Benoit, some nuns from St Desert, a Serbian Orthodox priest from Chalon, and a protestant pastor from the area as well as other local Christian leaders, we prayed for the unity of Christ's church together. It was moving as on Friday evening the prayer is diferent because the cross of Taize is laid on the floor of the church and there is a moment when everyone turns towards the cross and bows, kneels and prays. And what a wonderful moment when everyone came together to do this. All praying that the people of God may be one and asking his forgiveness when we fail in our search for inity with our brothers and sisters.
After the prayer we were invited to share a drink and refreshment with some of the brothers and the local Christians visiting for the prayer.
It was a very special meeting and we felt so priveleged to be part of it.