Today is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), which means that today is the feast day for our sister parish, Corpus Christi Parish in Jalchatra, Bangladesh. We’ve had a sister parish relationship with Corpus Christi for the last 10 years, and it’s truly been a blessing to all of us.
Bangladesh is a very poor country about the size of Wisconsin, but with a population of over 160 million. Jalchatra is in the northern part of the country, and the Catholics there are members of the Garo tribe. In an overwhelmingly Muslim country, where fewer than 1% of the population is Catholic, the parishioners are both a religious and ethnic minority. This creates many challenges on a daily basis.
In the face of such challenges, the faith of our brothers and sisters in Jalchatra is inspiring. Corpus Christi is a vibrant parish that serves more than 5000 Catholics. Since parishioners are so spread out – and since travel can be very difficult – parish life looks a lot different than it does in the States. There are many outpost chapels that serve people who can’t travel to the main church, and when a priest is unable to make it to those chapels, then trained catechists take responsibility for prayer and religious education. There are also several schools as part of the parish, including some boarding schools, and other ministries in fields such as health care, vocational training and social justice. The parish does an incredible job of ministering to the spiritual and material needs of its parishioners with very limited resources.
While our relationship with Corpus Christi is more about prayer and solidarity than it is about financial assistance, the humble funds that we raise from things like Soup Suppers, the Fish Fry and various school projects go a long way in Bangladesh. Our school children have experienced how – quite literally – the loose change that we pull from our sofa cushions can feed a student at the boarding school for several days! And I was startled and humbled to learn that the money that we had been sending them was actually enough to build them a new church, at which they remembered us on the cornerstone! Like I said, money goes a long way there.
But most importantly, it is amazing how much they pray for us, especially in Mass intentions and holy hours. Their joyful faith in the midst of a difficult environment is amazing. I hope it’s an inspiration for us all. And so I ask you to remember our brothers and sisters at Corpus Christi Jalchatra in your prayers today, as they celebrate their patronal feast. Even though they’re halfway around the world, our prayers and our faith join us together as part of one universal Church.