Bangladesh War of Independence: West Pakistani Soldiers Kill Catholic Priests

Photo Courtesy: Father Evans (Holy Cross Church, Luxmibazar, Dhaka),
Father Veronesi (Bishop’s House Archives, Khulna), Father Marandi
(Catholic Beginnings in North Bengal by by Luigi Pinos, P.I.M.E.)
Layout and Design: Joachim Romeo D’Costa

The Pakistani ruling elite always considered the Hindus in East Pakistan as enemies and agents of India. During their nine-month long deadly crackdown in 1971, West Pakistani soldiers not only demolished many Hindu temples, but also killed a sizable number of Hindu priests, besides Hindu intellectuals, influential persons and common folks in different parts of the eastern wing of the country.

Comparatively, Christians did not suffer that much death and destruction as suffered by the Hindus. Yet, they were not totally spared. In certain pockets of East Pakistan, death and destruction visited them as well. In many mission church and school compounds, internal refugees –Hindus, Muslims and Christians — fleeing West Pakistani military crackdown and barbarity had taken shelter. They were fed and clothed. In this process, a good number of local priests and foreign missionaries — both Catholic and Protestant — faced threats and harassment from the West Pakistani military personnel.

Three Catholic priests — two foreign and one East Pakistani — were brutally killed, too. They were:

  • Father William P. Evans, C.S.C. (1919 – 1971):

Father William P. Evans, C.S.C., killed on November 23, 1971, was an American priest and missionary, belonging to the Congregation of Holy Cross. After coming to East Pakistan, he served at different capacities in various Catholic parish churches and, one time, at the Bandura Little Flower Seminary. Finally, he was the parish priest of Golla Catholic Church in Nawabganj Upazilla of Dhaka District.

Although he was a foreigner, he loved the Bangalis dearly and empathized with them and their aspirations. He aided many internal refugees and gave moral support to the muktijuddhas (fredom fighters) of the locality. West Pakistani army personnel in that area was aware of his support of the freedom fighters.

On November 13, 1971, as usual once a week, he was going by a boat to offer Mass at Bakshanagar Village, a mission station a few kilometres away from Golla. As his boat was passing by the army camp at Nawabganj, the soldiers signaled the boat to make a stoppage at the camp. When the boat reached the shore, soldiers grabbed Father Evans and struck him so hard with the rifle butt that he fell on the ground. His body was bayonated several times and ultimately he was killed with two bullets. Then they threw his corpse into the river that carried it several kilometres downstream.

Ordinary people recovered his body and brought it to Golla Church compound. Thousands of Catholics, Muslims and Hindus of the area came to pay their last respect to this holy man before his burial at the church graveyard.

Father Evans’ innate smiling face, love of people, humility, humour, and empathy drew people of all faiths to him. He was called a “holy man.” Till now, many people visit his grave.

In the Little Flower Seminary at Bandura in the early 60′s, he was our rector. From time to time, he used to give us writing assignments in English and after checking them would give his comments. On my assignment sheets, he would often remark: “Short sentences, but complete thought. Keep up the good work.” My later journalism and writing career in life was the result of his inspiration.

Father Evans has been honoured in different ways in Bangladesh. The Tribeni Chhatra Kallyan Sangha (youth organization) in 1972 started to give “Father Evans Scholarship” to poor but excelling students. In 1973, this organization had also started “Father Evans Memorial Football Tournament”. Later Shurid Sangha (another youth organization) in old Dhaka started its annual “Shaheed Father Evans Memorial Basketball Competition” among different youth organizations.

Source: Bangladeshey Catholic Mondoli (The Catholic Church in Bangladesh)
by Jerome D’Costa (Dhaka: Pratibeshi Prakashani, 1986), pp.302-303

  • Father Mario Veronesi, S.X. (1912 – 1971):

After West Pakistani military started their crackdown on the East Pakistanis (now Bangladesh) from March 25, 1971 onwards, many people of all faiths began to take refuge in church compounds — both Catholic and Protestant. In Jessore town, a number of such people took shelter in the church compound where Father Mario Veronesi, an Italian Xaverian priest and missionary, was the parish priest.

On April 4, 1971 it was the Palm Sunday. Father was taking care of the internal refugees who had taken shelter in his church compound. When the soldiers with their rifles and sub-machine guns entered the compound and were proceeding towards the building, Father Veronesi came out to meet them with his raised hands. He had a large red cross badge on his chest because there was also the Fatima Hospital adjacent to the place. The soldiers immediately started to fire at him and the building. He got bullets in his chest and died there. The soldiers then entered the church and shot and killed four of the refugees.

Initially, he was buried in Jessore. Later his body was taken to Shimulia Catholic Church compound and re-buried near the grave of another Italian Xaverian missionary Father Valerian Cobbe, S.X., who was killed on October 14, 1974 by robbers.

After the independence of Bangladesh in December, 1971, a Muslim student, named Ismail Hossain, wrote a letter to Father Valerian Cobbe and paid tribute to Father Mario Veronesi: “At last we have achieved independence and freedom! We rejoice and thank God and ask him to help our nation progress and live in tranquility. The memory of so many victims is the thing that saddens us most and gives us great pain. The best members of our society have died. Father Mario Veronesi is among these martyrs of our independence. We feel very proud of him: he paid the highest price for our independence!”

This 58-year-old Italian was a priest for 28 years, 19 of which he spent in East Pakistan. He worked in various capacity in different parish churches under the Diocese of Khulna. He is best remembered for working for the upliftment of the poor.

Source: www.xaviermissionaries.org/M_Stories/Martyrs/Vern7.htm

  • Father Lucas Marandi (1922 – 1971):

Father Lucas Marandi, belonging to the local Santal ethnic group, was a diocesan priest for 18 years under the Diocese of Dinajpur, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In 1971, he was the parish priest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church at Ruhea in Thakurgaon District. He had a strong patriotic feeling for his country when the West Pakistani army began their bloody crackdown on the East Pakistani on March 25, 1971.

Thousands upon thousands of East Pakistanis in various districts and localities were fleeing the merciless attacks of the West Pakistani soldiers. Many were taking refuge in different border districts of India.

Father Marandi received the news that four Catholic mission centres of the Diocese of Dinajpur were abandoned after the military plunderings. In the Ruhea area itself, most of the members of the minority groups and many Muslims left their abodes and fled to nearby India. His parishoners, through messengers, were appealing him time and again to leave Ruhea and join them in India.

Finally, Father Marandi decided to move. He got the church bullock cart loaded with the parish archives and his personal belongings. He told the cart driver to move towards the border that was marked by the shallow Nagor River, six miles ( kilometres) away. He then reached the riverbank on his motor cycle.

When the cart reached the designated spot, the cart and he himself on the motor cycle crossed the river together. On reaching the Indian side of the river bank, he turned toward the Ruhea Church and kept on looking intently for quite some time. His companions could realize that something ominous was going on in his mind. When someone told him to make a move towards India, Father Marandi turned toward him and said gravely: “No, it has all been a mistake! Let’s go back to Ruhea!” He then crossed the river and started to return to his church.

Father Lucas Marandi was all alone in the Ruhea church compound except a few Catholics living nearby. After three days, on April 21, 1971, a West Pakistani army jeep pulled up at the priest’s residence. Father greeted them and offered them tea and biscuits. They then left for the north. He felt quite relieved of his tension, but temporarily. After three hours the jeep returned.

Father Marandi came out again, but the soldiers pushed him inside his residence and started to torture him for the next 15 minutes or so. They bayoneted his face beyond recognition. Blood splattered all over the walls. When they left the compound, mortally wounded Father was dying.

A few Catholics who lived nearby rushed in to see what had happened. Seeing his grave condition, they decided to take him to India by the very bullock cart that Father had used earlier. Before reaching the destination, Father Lucas Marandi expired. His corpse was taken to the Catholic Church at Islampur on the Indian side of the border where he is still buried.

Sooner they left the church compound then a bunch of local looters appeared and ransacked the church and priest’s residence and carried away everything available.

Source: Catholic Beginnings in North Bengal by Father Luigi Pinos, P.I.M.E.
(Saidpur: Catholic Church, 1984), pp.26-27)

These three priests are the testimonies of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the ferocious and brutal West Pakistani soldiers.

Used with permission from Jerome D’Costa:

http://bangladeshcanadaandbeyond.blogspot.com/2009/03/bangladesh-war-of-independence-west.html

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