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Sunrise Service Draws 25,000 Two Days After Muslim Gov’t Urged To Make Easter Public Holiday

ICC Note: Christians turn out in droves in Muslim country of Bangladesh in spite of instability and an increased presence of Islamic radicals.

4/13/07 Bangladesh (UCAN) – Christians marked Easter with a massive prayer service in the capital and by extending Easter greetings to the nation through the media. Two days earlier on Good Friday, they had reiterated their demand that Easter Sunday be made a public holiday.

In the early hours of Easter Sunday, April 8, about 25,000 Protestants and Catholics assembled in the southern plaza of the national parliament building, where loudspeakers filled the air with music as dawn broke over the city. Pastors’ Fellowship, a Protestant pastors’ forum, organized the Easter Sunrise Service, which proclaimed Christ’s resurrection through songs and speeches.

During the service, Tapon Chowdhury, a Protestant who serves as Christian adviser to the country’s caretaker government, offered Easter greetings to the participants. “We must forget our conflicts and misunderstandings and develop trust with one another so as to build up our nation at this present time,” he told the massive crowd in what has become an annual event next to the halls of government. “Christ’s resurrection teaches us to do so.”

The current caretaker government took over power in this Muslim-majority country on Jan. 11. Backed by the military, it declared a state of emergency and postponed national elections. Within weeks, it began a “war” against corruption, arresting and jailing scores of top politicians on graft charges.

On Easter afternoon, the national TV network aired a special 50-minute program depicting the capture, torture, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nongovernmental organization (NGO) worker Porimol Rozario portrayed Jesus.

That same day, most national dailies carried an Easter greeting the Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA) sent to the nation. BCA president Promod Mankin and secretary general Nirmol Rozario, both Catholics, signed it.

Some Catholic priests and other writers within the Christian community also wrote articles that appeared in national print media highlighting the importance of Easter. Along with these, print media also published news items on Easter celebrations held in various churches around the country.

On Good Friday, the BCA held a press conference at which its two top leaders urged the present government to declare Easter Sunday a “government holiday,” reiterating a call the association has been making for several years.

Nirmol Rozario, who read out the BCA statement, presented a list of six demands from Christians and other minority communities in Bangladesh . These included calls for one state minister each from the Buddhist, Christian and Hindu communities, employment opportunities in government institutions for Christian students after they graduate, Christian involvement in government policy making, and re-establishment of the 1972 Constitution, which stressed secularism.

“We have been struggling to have our demands met not only for Christians, but also for the advancement and betterment of the country,” Rozario told UCA News on April 7. In his view, the present caretaker government has acted impartially in bringing about historical reforms in the country.

Mankin, a former parliamentarian of the Awami League, the main opposition party in the previous elected government, said during the press conference that the previous government never implemented a parliamentary committee’s recommendation to make Easter a public holiday.

Seventeen Bengali and English dailies covered the press conference.

Rozario told UCA News that BCA is the only secular forum affiliating Catholics and Protestants, and that it has been organizing press conferences and demonstrations since 2003 to promote Christian rights.

The association was established in 1967, four years before East Pakistan gained independence as Bangladesh . It now claims 47 parish- and subdistrict-based units around the country with 7,000 registered members.