Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Father Emmanuel Garcia, S.J.: The First Native-born Priest of Bangladesh -- 2

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Political Trouble in Bengal

It’s not known exactly when Garcia became priest and where he carried on his missionary duty. But, it is true that in the intervening period of his study in Goa and his return from there, Bengal was in turmoil. In 1603, Man Singh, the Mughal-appointed governor of Bengal, declared war against Raja Pratapadittya of Chandika. Within three years, local Mughal subedar Islam Khan defeated Pratapadittya and arrested him. He was being sent to Agra as a prisoner and, on his way there, he died in 1611. Later Raja Kedar Rai also died after he was defeated by the Mughals. After the death of these two Hindu rulers, Bengal again fell into the hands of the Muslims.

Father Emmanuel Garcia Found in Hooghly

Hooghly was a firmly established Portuguese settlement where 35,000 Portuguese and local Catholics lived. After several years, Father Garcia is found there doing his work as a priest.
At the time, some Portuguese – mostly settled in Chittagong -- instead of doing regular commerce, resorted to piracy in the Bay of Bengal and its connecting rivers in collusion with the Moghs of Arakan of present-day Myanmar (Burma). They used to go to Mughal-administered territories of Bengal by their fast-moving small ships and attack assembled people in local bazaars (marketplaces) and rural wedding ceremonies of both Hindus and Muslims and carry away as many people as possible and their movable properties. Things that were immovable, were set on fire. The captives would then be sold as slaves in distant places and many of them were forced to convert to Christianity when they were put into service under the Portuguese. The Mughal government and local merchants and ordinary people were fed up with their marauding adventures. In addition, the Portuguese were also failing to pay the required taxes to the Mughal government.

All these and other reasons led to a drastic action from Mughal emperor Shahjahan, who in 1632, ordered his subedar (governor) of Bengal, Qasim Khan Juyini, to take punitive action against the Portuguese. He ordered a total blockade of the Portuguese settlement of Hooghly and capture all its inhabitants and send them to Agra, the capital of Mughal Empire, as slaves.

The Mughal blockade came in June of 1632 with about 150,000 soldiers against 300 Portuguese troops and 700 local Christians in defense of Hooghly. The Portuguese sent a Jesuit priest to negotiate peace, but Mughal commander Bahadur Khan mentioned what the offenses of the Portuguese were and demanded a search for slaves taken from Mughal territories and punishment of those who purchased those slaves. At the refusal of the Portuguese to concede to a search, an attack was made against them by land and river. The Portuguese repulsed the attack. The Portuguese sought more negotiations, but ultimately they failed. After three months of blockade, several thousand starving inhabitants fled downriver, but Hoogly fell to the Mughals with a great loss of life and capture of about 4,400 Christians, both Portuguese and Bangali. Among them were Father Emmanuel Garcia, S.J. and three other European priests.

The captives were chained and led toward Agra on foot. After eight months, they reached Agra haggard and weak. The emperor demanded that they apostatize (renounce Christianity and convert to Islam) or face death by being trampled under the feet of enraged elephants. Some apostatized, others refused to do so but faced deadly persecution. At the refusal of four Catholic priests, the emperor ordered them to be trampled on by elephants. At the last moment, because of the intervention of Asaf Khan, father-in-law of emperor Shah Jahan, the priests were spared the ignominious death by elephant trampling, but they were placed in a dungeon where they faced constant persecution.
On March 23, 1634, Father Emmanuel Garcia, S.J. died in captivity. In a cemetery in Agra, his grave stone has these written: “Let the soul of Father Emmanuel Garcia, who gave up his life for Christianity, rest in peace.”

The first local priest of Bangladesh died a heroic death being steadfast to this faith. Let him be a source of inspiration for the present generation of Christians in Bangladesh.

The Second Native-born Priest of Bangladesh

It is worth mentioning here that the second local priest of Bangladesh was Father Antonio da Rosario (also known as Father Antoine da Rosario). He was the son of a Hindu zaminder (raja) of Bhushana of the present district of Gopalganj in Bangladesh. In 1663, Mogh pirates kidnapped this young person and took him to Arakan. Portuguese priest Father Manuel da Rosario bought him from the pirates and tried to convert him to Christianity, but failed. It is said, the young man, one day, in a dream saw St. Anthony of Padua telling him to accept Christianity. He then received baptism as a Christian and took his new name after St. Anthony. In 1670, he returned to Bhushana and preached Christianity among his own people. He then preached in the Bhawal region (north and north-east of Dhaka) and Assam. His method of preaching and teaching religion among low-caste Hindus was through song, dialogue and debate. He is said to have converted 20,000 people to Christianity in two years. Later, towards the end of the 17th century, he prepared the written manuscript, Brahman-Roman Catholic Sambad (Brahman-Roman Catholic news) in the dialogue style.


1. Raja Pratapadittyer Jugey Ekti Bangali Jajok (One Bangali priest at the time of Raja Pratapadittya) by Father Pierre Fallon, S.J. (Dhaka: The Pratibeshi weekly -- Christmas Issue, 1972).
2. D’Costa, Jerome, Bangladeshey Catholic Mondoli (The Catholic Church in Bangladesh), Dhaka: Pratibeshi Prakashani, 1988), p. 15-17, 136.
3. The Internet edition of the Banglapedia, Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
4. The Cambridge History of India (Mughal Period), pp. 190-192.
(The End)

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