Bangladesh: A Missionary's VisitJuly 1, 2000
Fr. Tony Lalli, s.x.
After 44 years, it was a long overdue reunion! Fr. Anthony Germano, his counsin, Anthony Morsella, and myself were able to realize that happy event, the reunion of the “3 Tonys”, on the occasion of Fr. Germano’s visit to the States. On a year of sabbatical for some refreshing studies and a retreat and well deserved rest, for him visits to friends and relatives are a must. So in early June, Fr. Germano and his cousin who lives in N. Bergen, NJ, came to Holliston, MA.
The three of us had been classmates in the minor seminary of Trivento (CB), Italy. (A fourth classmate is a monsignor in Cleveland, OH, while another is a parish priest in his native Abruzzi).
Fr. Germano, 60 years old, and ordained in 1964, taught classic languages in Xaverian seminaries in Italy, until in 1977 he was assigned to the missions of Bangladesh, where he has been ever since… 23 years!
Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, has a population of 130 millions of which Catholics account for only 0.05%, 85% are Muslims, 12% Hindus, and 2.9% are Animists or Buddhists.
Fr. Germano, missionary to-the-marrow-of-his-bones, went to the mission of Baradal which had been closed for many years, among the “Muchis” – “untouchables” and outcasts. Catholics there were only 1,500 in a population of over a half a million people. He set out to organize communities throughout the dozens of villages, built chapels and a school for 1st to 8th graders, which now counts over 500 students. One of his main concerns, however, was the formation of a core group of lay leaders who could assume responsibility in their communities. On a large image of the “Risen Crucified” they wrote four Bengali words: “Ghen” (knowledge/awareness), “Sheha” (service), “Marjada” (Dignity/respect) and “Niger Pa Darano” (stand-on-your-own-feet), four words which summarized the pastoral plan Fr. Germano and his lay leaders had worked out together.
After Baradal, Fr. Germano went to Achabari (The House of Hope), a center for the disabled founded 20 years ago by Fr. Spiga, also a Xaverian missionary. Fr. Germano’s first task was to find these people excluded by society, and scattered around some 30 villages. Soon he began inviting them to the social center where, though mostly non-Christians, they would slowly be re-linked to and re-introduced into society. This act of brotherly love would often lead to evangelization through the sharing of bible teachings and prayer groups.
Next came the call to Bhabarpara as pastor of the largest parish in the diocese of Khulna with 5,000 Catholics. Bhabarpara, founded in 1850, included a school, an orphanage and a medical dispensary. Parish work in Bhabarpara lasted only two years. Elected Provincial superior, Fr. Germano for three years led the 40 or so Xaverians in Bangladesh.
The present sabbatical year follows these many years of dedicated service and leadership by example. And he is already eager to return to his people in Bangladesh, by Christmas 2000.
Even in the minor seminary of Trivento we were close friends, and I admired Germano’s intelligence and gentleness. Highlight of our couple of days together was recalling and reliving the moment we both can pinpoint as “the birth of our missionary vocation.”
It was on April 30, 1954, when we received the news of the tragic death, occurred the day before, of Germano’s young pastor who had also been a missionary overseas. As we gathered around Germano to offer our condolences and support, crying he said, “I’m going to take his place. I’ll be a missionary like he was!” Three others of us agreed, “We will go, too!” Of the thirty classmates that we were, only the four of us are priests today, Germano and myself are Xaverian missionaries, the other two are diocesan priests, Msgr. Romano Ciotola in Cleveland, OH, and Don Felice Fangio still in Italy.
God’s ways are mysterious indeed, and wonderful!
Fr. Tony Lalli, s.x.