MUMBAI, India – Though much about the Catholic Church can be opaque to outsiders, if there’s one thing most ordinary people get, it’s that being a cardinal is a big deal – it means a higher profile, more influence and direct access to the pope, and being one step away from the top job yourself.
The south Asia nation of Bangladesh, which got its first-ever Prince of the Church last November, is a good reminder, as the new-found prominence of Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario may have played a role in prompting Pope Francis to elevate the cradle of the faith in the country to an Archdiocese.
On February 2, the pontiff raised the Diocese of Chittagong to the status of a Metropolitan Archdiocese, and, at the same time, designated Bishop Moses Costa its first Archbishop.
D’Rozario of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, told Crux seeing this happen was a longtime personal dream.
“Personally, in the millennium Jubilee [of 2000], I had dreamed and hoped for this, and the bishops’ conference applied for it,” he said. “Now it’s a reality, [bringing] a sense of deep gratitude and joy.”
D’Rozario explained that Christianity actually began in Bangladesh in Chittagong, the country’s second city, in 1537, and the country’s first churches were built there after Portuguese missionaries and traders arrived in 1598.
He offered two basic explanations for why acknowledging the importance of Chittagong is important in this overwhelmingly Muslim nation, where Christians make up less than one percent of the population of 170 million.
“In the Great Jubilee year of 2000, we did a history study of the history of Christianity in Bangladesh and in particular of Chittagong, which is the foundation of Christianity of Bangladesh,” he said.
The city is important to the development of Catholicism not only in Bangladesh but across the region, D’Rozario said, noting that it’s given birth to four or five dioceses in Myanmar and three in India.
“Secondly and importantly, Chittagong is the second capital of Bangladesh and the elevation as an archdiocese with the archbishop is significant for Church/state relationships. As Archbishop, [Costa] can play a bigger role because of his position,” D’Rozario said.
The Bangladeshi cardinal said this is more than a juridical move, but rather a sign of papal affection that will have an impact on the faith.
“Having a Metropolitan Archdiocese will animate the faith of the people,” he said.
“The people are already strongly rooted in the faith, and this recognition of the history of Chittagong will also bestow a sense of pride and joy, a sense of dignity and identity, and will be a great impetus to the faith,” he said.
For his part, Costa said he’s “humbled and honored by the elevation, describing it as “a big responsibility.”
“[Becoming] archbishop will better facilitate and enhance relations with civil authorities and also for interreligious dialogue,” he said.
Costa echoed D’Rozario’s point about Church/state ties, saying, “As Archbishop, I will have more ‘fortitude’ to develop relations with the government.”
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Bangladesh as well as India sometime later this year.