Miracles and cures multiply at Bangladesh’s top Catholic shrine

Plans afoot to add basilica as St. Anthony of Padua shrine in Gazipur draws huge crowds each year

Devotees line up to touch and pay respect to the statue of St. Anthony of Padua in Panjora, Gazipur district of central Bangladesh to attend an annual feast there on Feb. 2. .

(Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews.com)

Jolekha Begum is eight months pregnant but the Muslim primary school teacher still traveled more than 150 kilometers across Bangladesh on a wintry morning in late January to worship at a miracle-bestowing shrine that has gained fame nationwide.

The 31-year-old drove from northern Siranjganj district to St. Anthony of Padua shrine in Panjora village of central Gazipur district to thank the Portuguese saint for a “great favor.”

“I got married seven years ago but I failed to conceive. My in-laws became frustrated and used to abuse me verbally and physically,” she said.

“I came to know about St. Anthony’s miraculous power and visited the shrine last year with the intention of having a child. My wish has now been fulfilled,” she told ucanews.com.

She said she also prayed for a healthy child.

“I will continue to travel here [to give thanks] for as long as I can,” she said.

Devotees hold biscuits and statues of St. Anthony of Padua during the feast day on Feb. 2. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews.com)

Hindu couple Rajesh Das, 38, and Sunita Debi, 25, are also believers.

They visited the shrine with their 10-year-old son from Munshiganj district, about 100 kilometers away. They took with them a pair of pigeons to give blessing.

“Our son became ill from a disease the doctors were unable to diagnose about two years ago and his health was deteriorating,” said Sunita, a housewife.

“I heard about St. Anthony from a Christian man so we came here to pray to the saint for our boy’s recovery. And now he has completely healed,” she added.

At the shrine, such stories of faith and miracles being bestowed are increasingly common.

It now draws hundreds of devotees of all faiths and ethnicities year-round.

During an annual feast that is usually celebrated in February, it turns into the largest annual Christian gathering in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Volunteers collect pigeons from devotees offered to St. Anthony of Padua as thanksgiving gifts on the day of the feast. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews.com)

This year, about 50,000 devotees flocked there to attend the feast on Feb. 2, which was presided over by Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka. Traditionally, it is celebrated ahead of Lent, which begins on Feb. 14 this year, rather than on June 13, St. Anthony’s feast day in the church’s liturgical calendar.

Most devotees are Catholics from Dhaka Archdiocese’s Bhawal region, one of country’s oldest and largest Catholic strongholds covering seven parishes.

Panjora village is part of St. Nicholas of Tolentino Church in Nagari, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Bhawal region.

On the day of the feast, thousands lined up and waited for hours to touch the statue of the saint to pay their respect.

Many carried with them a manot, a gift for granting a favor, in the form of candles, gold ornaments, pigeons, biscuits and so on.

There are about a dozen Catholic shrines in Bangladesh but the frenzied devotion seen at the St. Anthony shrine in Panjora is unparalleled.

Over a period of nine days in early February about 5,000-6,000 people attend two novena Masses and prayers there.

A devotee holds a Rosary to be blessed during the feast. (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews.com)

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