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Letter of Brother Hilario Schwab

01/09/2008: Bangladesh

Here are some extracts from the letter of Br Hilario, sent to his Provincial, Br Demetrio, of the Cruz del Sur Province. From Bangladesh, Br Hilario tells us of his life and that of the brothers engaged in Mission Ad Gentes (MAG) in the various countries of Asia.

We are still studying the language even if we have a little time left over from the course to make contact with the people and to be able to practise a little what we have learnt in the books. The Archbishop has already suggested several places to us. We have already made a first sortie; next week we will make the second. I spent two weeks with the Solomon Islands brother in a parish on Nagori, which is some forty kilometres from Dhaka. In the mornings, we used to go to a school of about 1,400 girls run by the Sisters and we spent the morning in the classes. In the afternoon, several young people, at the request of the parish priest, would take us into the country to visit families living in the middle of the forest. We had a little talk with each one. We visited a good twenty families. We are discovering many things new for us, especially concerning the family structure. The houses are composed, generally, of four separate parts, arranged in a square, with a sort of central courtyard where a number of animals wander: ducks, fowls, little goats, and some cows (=Goru). The parents live in one part; the married sons with their wives in the second; the married daughters occupy another part with their husbands; the sons’ children live together; the kitchen and dining room occupy another block. That is where all do their cooking and eat from the same pot. It is a matter of a long cultural tradition which, in certain cases, is losing momentum. If there are three spouses and one of them has no work, he eats with the others… but not without a certain tension. You observe also the face of human and silent suffering. In one house, I met a grandmother of 87, bedridden and afflicted by very advanced diabetes. Champagnat would qualify her as the ‘pillar’ of that family… I have tried very hard to say something to those people. Another grandmother was afflicted with hemiplegia for some time… She asked me to pray for her and held out her right hand to me. I took it and prayed aloud the Our Father in Bengali… I don’t know… but I had the impression that someone had come into that house…

When you step into the house, what you see first is a wall covered with religious images and family pictures. I would say that they resemble chapels. The faith of the people is very visible; they don’t talk about it; that is why it is credible. We found one family together; they were seated on a mat, in the process of praying with the Scriptures; we left with the intention of returning another day. The first day we took part in family prayer. These are the milieus which provide not a few religious and priestly vocations. The Holy Cross Brothers have 35 postulants. We have begun very cautiously. We are accompanying four or five young men from Khulma, which entails travelling or making use of e-mail… The archdiocesan seminary accommodates more than 100 seminarians.

Next week, accompanied by another brother, I will go the St Gregory School of the Holy Cross Brothers. They are quite strong here, seeing that they have been here for 150 years. The school counts about 2000 pupils. We will try to practise the language. A little difficulty arises from the fact that the people you meet in the streets do not speak exactly the language of the books or do not pronounce it the same way. But as I have already said elsewhere, we are making progress, so well that we say the marial prayer in Bengali. With the people we speak ‘Banglish’ (Bengali+ English). The effort that it requires is great and sometimes exhausting… As well, there is the matter of the house. We are still living in leased houses, but for the end of the year, we would like to be together all seven in the same house. That will depend on the type and the place of the mission that we wish to carry out.

H. Hilario Schwab

Dhaka, Bangladesh, 23 August 2008.

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