Cardinal D’Rozario unites all religions in Bangladesh

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Cardinal D’Rozario is the first cardinal of Bangladesh. On 9 October 2016 Pope Francis announced a consistory on 19 November for the creation of 17 new cardinals, including 13 under the age of 80. All are therefore eligible to vote for the next pope. One of them was 73-year-old Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Out of a total population of 153 million people in Bangladesh, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, and the fourth largest Islamic country in the world, the Catholic community in Bangladesh is estimated at around 350,000, making it 0.2% of the nation’s people.

Archbishop D’Rozario has been a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Dhaka since 2011. But it was a surprise to him to receive such a great honour to join the exclusive group of cardinals. Most of his church-goers knew about the announcement 90 minutes before he did.

Not only are Catholics excited about the honour – it is an honour that entire country is feeling. It is a story of tolerance and respect for religious minorities. President Abdul Hamid expressed his delight, saying that there was more ‘joy and festivity’ at the end of the year than normal because of the rejoicing over D’Rozario’s promotion. Hamid said the appointment ‘will brighten further the country’s existing trend of communal harmony across the globe.’

At a 22 December reception in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina told Cardinal D’Rozario that he had brought a big honour to the nation. ‘With you the country has been dignified and honoured,’she said.

The country is now anticipating a visit from the pope in 2017, which might coincide with his visit to India.

His appointment has drawn media attention. ‘By now,’ he said, ‘I must have given interviews to 20 TV channels … Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, everybody in the country is excited about it.’ He said many of the interviewers knew more about the details of becoming a cardinal than he did – such as the precise vestments he is now entitled to wear, or the mechanics of electing a pope. ‘To tell you the truth, I’ve learned a lot from them!’ he told Crux newspaper.

Born on 1 October 1943, D’Rozario was ordained a priest in 1972, and in 1990 he became the bishop of Rajshahi. He also served as the bishop of Chittagong in Bangladesh before becoming the coadjutor bishop of the Archdiocese of Dhaka, the country’s lone archdiocese and by definition the main point of reference for the local church.

In October 2011, D’Rozario succeeded Archbishop Paulinus Costa as the Archbishop of Dhaka. He’s also served as President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh and head of the United Forum of Churches of Bangladesh.

In June 2016, D’Rozario led all the small Christian churches of Bangladesh in an ecumenical day of prayer for peace, before the deadly terror attack at a Dhaka restaurant that left 28 people dead, including 9 Italians, 7 Japanese, an Indian and 3 students at American universities. D’Rozario defended the peaceful majority of his country’s Muslims, saying “this kind of killing does not belong to any religion.”

One of his first tasks as a cardinal will be to take charge of preparations for Pope Francis’s trip to Bangladesh in 2017, which the pontiff himself recently confirmed during his in-flight news conference at the end of his visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan.

“My appointment as cardinal by Pope Francis is a blessing and a grace,” Cardinal D’Rozario told Crux, “a recognition of the ‘smallness’ of the Church, but a church that’s vibrant in faith, and a witnessing church in society through our works. This is also a gift to the people of the nation, people of all religions. Bangladesh has a lot of challenges and difficulties, but has the capacity and the resilience and the strength to develop.”

He added, “I have been intensely involved in interreligious dialogue and, after the two tragic events in July, we have worked together to foster a culture of respect and harmony for all religions. Hence this is a recognition of the good things that is happening in our country, and a call to the country to go forward.”

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Photographs: Cardinal D’Rozario by Vincenzo Pinto/AP (top); tkayala.com (middle); and bangladeshcanadaandbeyond.blog (below)

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