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Issue Date:  December 21, 2007

A ministry of friendship and dialogue

For many years Maryknoll Fr. Bob McCahill has been sending an annual letter to NCR and other friends at Christmastime, chronicling his experience living among the people of Bangladesh since 1975.

The area of the country of Bangladesh is slightly smaller than Iowa, with a population of more than 150 million people, most of them poor and young, and about 83 percent of them Muslim. In his 1996 book Dialogue of Life: A Christian among Allah’s Poor (Orbis), McCahill wrote that though previous Catholic missionaries had accomplished good works in Bangladesh, when he arrived “no priests or brothers had set out to immerse themselves in the Islamic milieu, that is, to draw water from the same pumps and to bathe in the same ponds as they did; to share everyday laughs and inconveniences with Muslim next-door neighbors.” Dialogue of Life is filled with anecdotes of the people among whom he lives, who eventually come to call him “Bob Brother” and “uncle.”

McCahill’s reason for being there was summed up well in the simple letter of assignment given to him by Bishop Francis Gomes of Mymensingh diocese, where Mc-Cahill began his ministry and lived until 2001: “Serve the sick so that they may live. Show the respect which our Christian religion has for Islam and Hinduism. Explain to those who inquire about the reason for your lifestyle and good works. Contact the Christians in the area (a scattered few) and encourage them to live good lives.”

Gandhi, who investigated Christianity deeply, once said: “If you want us to feel the aroma of Christianity you must copy the rose. The rose irresistibly draws people to itself, and the scent remains with them.” These words are what guide Fr. Bob McCahill in his “ministry of presence” -- a ministry that goes far beyond his medical service to become an effort of friendship and dialogue.

-- Erin Ryan

National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2007

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