Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brother Flavian Laplante Declared 'Servant of God' - 3


Brother Flavian showing off a big 'lakwa' fish
that his fishermen caught in the Bay of Bengal.
Lakwa fish are one of the most profitable catches.

(Photo Courtesy: The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, CSC, p.118)

Women's Development Centre

When Sister Pauline Nadeau, CSC, expressed her willingness to work among the Hindu and Muslim women, Brother Flavian was extremely happy to invite her to start her work at Diang in February, 1973. She began to work in literacy education -- reading, writing and counting and then expanded to sewing. Then through a women's health centre, assisted by Sister Monique Desnoyers, CSC, women were being taught about health and childcare and their minor illnesses were being treated. Sister Nadeau also taught women to form savings groups and keep accounts. Through these works, a new life came to these poor and neglected women. Before Sister Nadeau left Diang in 1979, she brought some RNDM Sisters to work for these women.

Technical School for the Young

Brother Flavian also saw to it that local young men get technical training in different trades including making and repairing motorized boats. For this purpose, he set up a technical school at Diang.

Miriam Ashram

Brother Flavian was contemplating to spend his retired days in prayer and contemplation at Diang. To his relatives in Canada he mentioned: "No more errands, no more visits to Dhaka to meet with officers, nothing but prayer and manual work in the orchards of Diang, in the gardens around the hills that I climbed so often and came down as often....Therefore, I shall spend the last years of my life at the feet of the Master." (The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, CSC, p.134)

During his return from Canada, Brother Flavian visited some ashrams (hermitages) in Europe and India in December 1976. After arrviving at Diang, he got rid of his earthly possessions, tools and documents -- the last relics of his active life at Diang. Brother Alberic Houle writes in his book (p.140): "On December 24, he entered his cell (8'x8') covered with a thatch roof. As furniture, he had a bed, a small table, a chair, three "poufs" for visitors, two small shelves to keep a few books and his small portable typewriter. The ashram is situated between three hills, with an opening on one side; formerly, it was a "Hatir Kheda," a trap enclosure where many years ago people would cpture herds of wild elephants. Bro. Flavian began his new life as "Shadhu," hermit, in the orchard of Miriam Ashram at a distance of 1,500 feet from the Brothers' residence. He did not cook: Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians brought him food (fruits, biscuits, bread...). He did have, however, a small stove to make tea and warm up his food." His ashram life was very intense and austere -- prayer, contemplation, spiritual reading, reading, writing, meeting visitors who came for his spiritual advice and encouragement, work in the gardens, and finally only a few hours' sleep.

On October 1, 1977, he got the 5'3" statue of Our Lady of Lourdes officially erected on the hill of the ashram. People began to come to visit the grotto and pray. On February 11, 1979, he organized a day of prayer and feast in honour of the Our Lady. Eight hundred pilgrims from different part of Bangladesh attended it. From that year onwards, each February sees a huge gathering of thousands of pilgrims at the ashram shrine. Now it is one of the most famous Catholic pilgrimage sites in Bangladesh.

His Death

In early 1981, Brother Flavian's health began to deteriorate. On March 19, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On June 19, 1981, he made his last confession and received Holy Communion from Father Shaha. At 9:20 p.m. he died muttering : "Come, Lord Jesus." He was buried solemnly at Diang by Bishop Joachim Rozario of Chittagong. On his death, messages of condolence and appreciation poured in from all over the world where Brother Flavian had friends, donors and colleagues.

Sources: The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, CSC
Dhaka: 2003

My Aquaintance with Brother Flavian

In the first half of the 1970's, I came in contact with Brother Flavian at Caritas office in Dhaka where he used to come to submit projects for the development of the fishermen. Then I met him at his place in Diang several times when I took several foreign donors and workers to visit his project. Lastly, Mr. Jeffrey Pereira and I were accompanied by Brother to visit actual deep-sea fishing around midnight in the Bay of Bengal, about 70 miles away from the shore.

In all these interactions, I found Brother to be a real gentleman with ready smile and humour. He had so much kindness and empathy for the poor and marginalized that he just could not help doing something positive and uplifting for them. For this reason, he went to the doors of donors again and again without tiring and losing hope. He was a man of patience in spite of all sorts of rejections, non-cooperation and, at times, threat to his life. He was fully focused to his goal -- the goal of giving voice to the voiceless, strengthening the economic life of the poor and marginalized. Ultimately, he was a man of prayer, which sustained his spiritual life. He was especially devoted to the Virgin Mary through his daily rosary prayers. At his request I had compiled a booklet on Our Lady of Lourdes, called Dhannya Lourder Raani O Shaddhi Bernadette, which is being used at the Miriam Ashram shrine for the visiting pilgrims.

I am positive that, one day, Brother Flavian Laplante, CSC, will be canonized and declared a 'saint' after the Catholic Church's proper scrutiny of his life and heroic virtues.

(The End)
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