Q&A with Sr. Mary Mitali, training lay people in Bangladesh for a more enlightened and participatory church
Sr. Mary Mitali of the Associates of Mary Queen of the Apostles, seated, speaks with participants during a workshop offered by the Episcopal Commission for the Laity in Bangladesh (courtesy of Mary Mitali)
Dhaka, Bangladesh – Sr. Mary Mitali, member of the Associates of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, has helped transform the lives of thousands of lay people during her six years by providing formation through her work as office secretary and formator with the Church. Episcopal Commission for the Laity.
Before going to training, there was a distance between lay people and religious priests and nuns, but now lay people and religious work closely together, Mitali said. The commission also helps lay people witness to Christ in this predominantly Muslim country, where Christians make up less than 1% of the population of 165 million.
The objective of the commission is to promote and coordinate the apostolate of the laity, especially with regard to the Christian life of the laity; to encourage the laity to participate in the life and mission of the Church; and to promote the action of the laity for catechetical teaching in liturgical and sacramental life as well as in works of mercy, charity and social development.
Mitali, 57, said the commission, established in 2004, also organized seminars and workshops for the formation of lay people on their Christian life and apostolate and their participation in social, economic, political and cultural life in Bangladesh. The commission also organizes seminars and workshops on the promotion of women in the family, in the church and in Christian and Bangladeshi society in general; trains people for lay ministries in the church; and promotes small Christian communities at the village level.
As a result, the local church strengthens and increases lay participation and increasing leadership among men and women.
GSR: What are you doing at the Episcopal Commission for the Laity?
Mitali: The commission has a program, the Christian communities program, and two offices, one for women and one for lay associations and organizations. The Christian Communities Program promotes small Christian communities at the grassroots level of villages and neighborhood communities and other special groups. The women’s office promotes the dignity of women, their vocation and role in the Church and in society, as well as their special service to others. The office of lay associations and organizations works for the relevance of the life and mission of lay Christians and provides spiritual guidance. It also brings together social leaders and provides Church teachings.
Sr Mary Mitali of the Associates of Mary Queen of the Apostles (courtesy of Mary Mitali)
As office secretary and trainer, I mainly plan and implement trainings with the help of the chairman and secretary of the committee. Each year we organize five or six national workshops for lay members from all over Bangladesh. I contact each of the eight dioceses of the country for participants.
After completing the workshop, participants commit to conducting similar seminars in their dioceses with the help of our fund. Later they send us reports. We use the help of some young Catholics as volunteers. In the future, they will be the parents and the rulers of society.
The parish priests help us to collect the lists of participants. We provide transportation and accommodation for each five-day workshop. I buy training material. In addition to organizing and managing the workshops, I also teach catechesis in the workshops.
What type of training do you offer to transform the lives of lay members?
We provide training on catechesis, the Bible, Christian leadership, the social teachings of the Church, the vocation of the laity, the pastoral directives of the local churches, Christian movements, theology, the spirituality of Mary, the mission, etc. New believers particularly enjoy catechesis because they can learn a lot of things that are not known in the workshop.
The courses are taught by Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, bishops and priests and expert nuns with various skills. In general, lay people are not very aware of the Bible, the teachings of the Church, and missionary work. By following our training, they can understand the importance of these and can actively participate in church activities.
Sr. Mary Mitali teaches at a catechesis workshop in March 2018 offered by the Episcopal Commission for the Laity in Bangladesh. (Courtesy of Mary Mitali)
Our training helps to positively change lay people. As they receive our training, they follow the teachings of the church, and they can also teach others and be a witness for people of other faiths. Participants are inspired by our courses. In addition to transforming, they also transform other people.
Lay people come to church through your workshop. Do you like your ministerial job?
Church members get involved in church activities. To see this transformation, I feel really good. I enjoy my job. Being a Catholic nun, when I see that I contribute to the life of the laity and that they are enlightened from our workshop, I rejoice in my religious life. Making enlightened human beings is our primary responsibility.
Often times, I notice that the participants come to us like an empty pot, and after receiving our workshop, they come back as a pot full of wisdom and knowledge. During the workshops, I stay with the participants 24 hours a day. I become happier when I see that our training is working. They make the church stronger.
I also want to talk about an important part of this ministry. Our formation gives the message to the laity about how they can lead a beautiful and ideal life. We want our laity to find happiness on Earth and in Heaven by leading a perfect Christian life. We believe that the laity gain awareness of us. We follow up with those who have received training so that they can share their learning with others.
“Making enlightened human beings is our main responsibility.”
—Sr. Mary mitali
What types of challenges do you face in this ministry and how do you resolve them?
Funding is a big challenge these days. Because we are a poor country, most of the participants cannot afford the travel costs. In addition, we have to manage food and accommodation. After the attack on Gulshan coffee On July 1, 2016, where 29 people were killed by Islamist militants, including 17 foreigners, the government prevented all foreign money from entering for religious purposes. Funding is therefore a major challenge for us. But we take a very small contribution from the participants, and that’s how we cover it. We also get the support of the bishops for the funding.
How do you involve women in your ministry?
While the Episcopal Commission for the Laity was created in 2004, the Women’s Office was not. Church leaders realized the importance of an office for women, and it was later established.
Through the office we celebrate International Women’s Day and various trainings. In accordance with the guidelines of our office, each of the parishes in the country celebrates International Women’s Day, which makes women aware of their rights. They can understand their vocation and their role in the Church and in society, their special service to others. We teach them about the Church, where women can contribute more and women in the Holy Bible.
One of the International Women’s Day celebrations organized by the Bangladesh Episcopal Commission for the Lay Women’s Office in 2019 (courtesy of Mary Mitali)
To empower them, we invite successful women leaders to talk to them. After receiving our training, many women contribute to the church. Many are involved in their parish councils and other social organizations as leaders, and some become entrepreneurs. Instead of staying at home, many women work outside their homes and contribute to their families, churches, and society. Now women are getting involved in volunteer work and using their talents.
Do you mean something else?
The office of lay associations and organizations brings together the social leaders of the Christian community. Nationally, we organize training for them. In training, leaders of Christian associations and welfare societies as well as Christian leaders of local governments join.
We teach them how they can relate the values and teachings of the Church in their activities. Because in this predominantly Muslim country, we have the opportunity to be witnesses to people of other faiths by showing them Christian behaviors and teachings.
We discuss with them the teachings and directives of Pope Francis. In our last training we focused on Laudato Si ‘ so that they can take better care of the environment. With the help and active participation of lay people, the Bangladeshi Catholic Church has planted 400,000 trees so far and Caritas Bangladesh has planted 300,000 trees so far due to Laudato Si ‘. I think it’s a great achievement for the church.
At the end, I mean that if the participants receive our teachings correctly and can practice in their lives, our church would be a more enlightened and participatory church.
Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario teaches a July 2018 workshop offered by the Episcopal Commission for the Laity in Bangladesh. (Courtesy of Mary Mitali)
Do you like what you read? Sign up for GSR electronic newsletters!