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Bangladesh: St Paul Church

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St Paul Church | Bangladesh | Asia

[Visited: April 2010]

When I was reading about the several options of excursions in Khulna, I was struck by the description of a church in Mongla. Rather, not just a church, but a complex of a school, hospital, and a church that had been founded by an Italian priest who settled in the region a long time ago. I was in for something unexpected, and soon found myself on the way to Mongla which I reached after a boat, bus, and another boatride. I started walking one of the main streets, away from the river, and quite soon reached big school building. My body was in serious need of rehydration, and while I was drinking at a shop directly opposite the school gate, the students appeared in big numbers. Time to go home.

Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): Mixing religious symbols outside St Paul church

Several students thought that foreigner was interesting enough to try their English on, and I found myself talking to them about their country, about my country, about English, and their school. With most students gone, a small group was still standing around me, and they invited me in the school grounds. I ended up getting a tour of the complex. After seeing the area where the boarders lived (before I knew it, one of the kids was singing the Titanic title song with his eyes closed while I was sitting on the bed of one of them), the various ponds, the school building and sports areas, and, of course, the highlight of the complex: St Paul church. Opposite the entrance, I saw a statue of Virgin Mary, with a background of stained glass in bright red, yellow, blue, and green; it somehow gave a fresh air to the church grounds. When I turned, though, I saw a church I had never seen before. A big cross right on top was not to be expected, but the decorations that ran all around the church, were not. Crosses, combined with lotus flowers and the half moon and star represented the big religions christianity, buddhism, and islam, all with a considerable following in Bangladesh.

Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): Statue with stained glass at the entrance of St Paul church

Inside, instead of a conventional church, I stepped into a space that could have been a muslim prayer hall. There were gothic elements, but other details were certainly also muslim i character. Yes, there were statues of christian saints, but on the base of those statues I found, again, lotus flower and half moon and star. This is one unique church, and I now very much wanted to talk to the genius behind it. The caretaker of the school told me he was having a rest, and I chatted with some of the boarders living in this compound. They proudly told me that the priest had translated Pinocchio into Bengali, and I felt a strange link with them: we could talk about the same famous story because of the skillful priest. One of the small boys eventually went to the house of the Italian priest who was the creative spirit here, to announce the arrival of a foreign guest, and before I knew it, I was invited inside and was having a drink with a piece of home-made cake (I could not help to notice the Italian olive oil on the shelf). This was the Italian priest who moved here in the 1950s, and has turned into a half Bangladeshi. Despite his age, he seemed very awake and sharp, and was still full of plans - also of building yet another church. As a token of friendship, he handed me a copy of his latest translation: traditional Bangla verses into Italian. On my way out, I passed the curious church again, and when I stepped outside, I had a different look on Bangla society. Or rather, the tolerant image I had felt during my stay so far, had been confirmed by the open minded approach of an Italian priest.

Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): St Paul church seen from the entrance
Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): Modern version of a stained glass window in St Paul church
Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): Statue with lotus and moon inside St Paul church
Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): Bell-tower of St Paul church
Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): St Paul Church: main prayer hall
Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): Bird in stained glass inside St Paul Church
Picture of St Paul Church (Bangladesh): Colourful painting on the floor

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