A copy of the Christmas 2020 issue of a Catholic youth group’s magazine (left) is seen next to Weekly Pratibeshi, the sole national Catholic weekly. Publishing magazines during Christmas and New Year is a long-held tradition of parish-based Catholic youth groups in Bangladesh. (Photo supplied) 

By Stephan Uttom

Dec 27 2021

Many youth groups publish magazines during religious festivals that offer a platform for talented writers

Ankur Mahatto exhaled a sigh of relief after the final copy of his club’s Christmas and New Year magazine Joyonti (Jubilee) was cleared for printing three days ago.

Mahatto, 21, and six other young Catholics have worked hard for the past three months to collect donations, advertisements and articles for the magazine.

The ethnic Paharia Catholic is a 12th-grade college student and president of Mother Teresa Youth Organization at Mary, Queen Assumed into Heaven Catholic Church in Natore district in northern Bangladesh, covered by Rajshahi Diocese.

Several hundred Catholic youth groups are based in 120 Catholic parishes across Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Besides their regular youth-centric activities, most publish magazines at Christmas and New Year. Some groups also publish magazines to mark Easter Sunday.

Mahatto’s group has some 200 members, while the parish has about 1,500 Catholics, mostly poor indigenous farmers and daily laborers.

Every year except for a break due to Covid-19 last year, this church-sponsored youth group has been bringing out the annual magazine since 2004.

“This organization was established in 2002 with an aim to promote unity among local Catholic youth and to encourage them to express their talents through various activities. Publishing a magazine during Christmas is one of our major activities,” Mahatto told UCA News.

I felt so happy on December 21 when I had the first printed copy of the magazine in my hand. The joy of Christmas fell upon us that day

This year a 32-page Bengali-language magazine has been published at a cost of 30,000 taka (US$350). Most of the donations and advertisements came from local Catholics and migrant Catholics in capital Dhaka.

It will be launched on Christmas Day and will be distributed in the parish and neighboring parishes until New Year’s Day.

While printing costs take the lion’s share of the budget, Christian writers, mostly young people, submitted articles to be used for free. Subjects include the history of the local church, motivational writings, short stories and poems.

Mahatto says it takes significant time and energy for students like him to bring out a magazine on time. 

“Three months ago, the seven-member cabinet chalked out a plan including a budget for the magazine. Then we sent letters to young and special writers for articles and reminded them from time to time about submission. Then we had to make door-to-door visits to request people to make donations,” he said.

“I felt so happy on December 21 when I had the first printed copy of the magazine in my hand. The joy of Christmas fell upon us that day.” 

Prominent Christian writers and church communicators believe the publication of magazines during religious festivals is an effective way of encouraging the writing talents of young Christians.

Victor K. Rozario, 44, is a prominent poet, story writer and journalist who has authored several titles.

The Catholic father of three hails the Christmas magazine of his home parish, Maria Virgo Potens Church, for inspiring him on his literary journey.

At the age of 12, his first poem Tui Razakar (You War Criminal), a rebuke against war criminals in the 1971 Liberation War, was published in the Christmas issue of Mousumi (Seasonal) magazine, sponsored by the Borni Christian Youth Organization.

“I was in grade eight and seeing my poem in print was immensely inspiring for me,” Rozario told UCA News.

These magazines feature good articles from young, talented writers. However, they cannot prosper and make it to national level amid a lack of nurturing in later days

He served as editor of the magazine for several years and felt proud to send letters to people with requests for articles.

“That was my first experience with the editorial process. It paved the way for my foray into the world of literature and journalism in later days,” said Rozario, who is now editor of the country page of Dhaka-based Dainik Amader Orthoniti (Daily Our Economy) newspaper.

Rozario said he started his professional career as a writer and editor in 1997 with Weekly Pratibeshi (Neighbor), the sole national Catholic weekly in Bangladesh. Since then, he has written for various leading newspapers and literary magazines in the country.

Despite his national endeavors, he continues to write for Christmas magazines and encourages young writers to keep up writing.  

Pointing to a survey, Rozario said about 150 magazines are published by Catholic youth groups in Bangladesh each year. However, he laments that the number of nationally recognized Christian writers is very few.

“These magazines feature good articles from young, talented writers. However, they cannot prosper and make it to national level amid a lack of nurturing in later days,” he said.

For years, the Catholic bishops’ Commission for Youth and Bangladesh Christian Writers’ Forum have organized training and workshops to promote young Christian writers. But such efforts have largely declined recently, Rozario noted.

“The Church can play a major role in promoting young writers and Weekly Pratibeshi is a major platform to provide a space for them. Besides, more training and workshops should be held regularly,” he said.

There are plenty of magazines but there is lots of scope to improve quality. We need to spot and nurture good writers who can excel in future    

Annual Christmas magazines are the mouthpieces of youth organizations founded with backing from the Church to promote youth leadership and talent, says Father Bulbul Augustine Reberio, editor of Weekly Pratibeshi and director of the Christian Communication Center.

“At one point, our writers came out of the Christmas magazines published by the youth organizations of remote villages. Their talent is revealed through these magazines,” Father Reberio told UCA News.

The priest pointed out that Catholic parishes and youth groups also publish souvenir magazines on occasions such as priestly ordinations and church anniversaries, which are a valuable source of the history and lives of Catholic communities.

In recent years, the Christian Communication Center has been collecting Christmas magazines from across the country to evaluate their quality. In the coming days, a competition will be organized and the best magazines will be awarded, the priest said.

Similar efforts need to be taken in all eight Catholic dioceses in Bangladesh, Father Rebeiro insisted.

“There are plenty of magazines but there is lots of scope to improve quality. We need to spot and nurture good writers who can excel in future,” he added.

Writer Rozario believes that it is essential to have good writers and editors from the minority Christian community to fill up an “intellectual void” that exists in the community.

“However, Christian groups promoting writers should avoid the tendency of creating ‘Christian writers’ but should emphasize having ‘universal writers’ who happen to be Christians. Otherwise, they will become irrelevant when it comes to national level,” he said. – UCANews