A man of the Spirit


Fr. Bob McCahill, a Maryknoll Father from the U.S., is no stranger to the many poor and sick people living along the streets of Bangladesh. He has been serving them for the past 35 years. His itinerant missionary life, his simplicity, his nearness and sincere concern for the poor and those who suffer has made him a “universal brother” to the Muslims and Hindus of the impoverished country, where religious and racial differences can surprisingly be easily overcome by genuine love and service. His work is an example of how the Holy Spirit blows wherever He wills (cf Jn 3:8) The following is a compilation of short anecdotes of Fr. McCahill’s journey that hopes to capture his tireless efforts and his continuing aspiration to seek and touch the Face of Christ through his encounters with the poor of Bangladesh.




The Queen’s Boy

While walking on a side street during a visit to one of the ten towns in Bangladesh I have lived in, the face of a young man coming towards me lit up with astonishment. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. I did not. “I am Razzak,” he said before adding a big smile, “…the Queen’s boy!” Then I remembered. Razzak was a perilously emaciated child whom I took, along with his mother, to the Save the Children Nutrition Unit in Dhaka in the mid-80’s. There, Razzak recovered and blossomed. When a female member of the English royal family visited Dhaka, she paid special attention to the shriveled Razzak. Afterwards, the staff dubbed Razzak “the Queen’s boy.” Now, 28 years later, Razzak is a fine-looking shop clerk. I do not know which one of us was more delighted by our chance encounter. Ordinarily, I never got the chance to see again the children I have been privileged to help. 

Reality of Being Human

At the beginning of the year, a seminarian spent some weeks with me. One morning, Kevin and I bicycled to a distant village intending to arrange with a couple the hospitalization of their child. However, the child was no longer there. His father had vacated their village home and taken the family elsewhere in search of work. The child’s need for professional treatment was dwarfed by the family’s need for food. “First things first,” the father must have thought. Meanwhile, Kevin and I continued to try to be useful to the poor, sometimes, with a bit of success.

The New Mission

Months earlier, Bishop Bejoy D’Cruze sent me an invitation: “Come spend some years in my diocese.” Eight months later, we met to iron out the details. Thus, at the beginning of May, I – with no little assistance from the Lord – inserted myself in Hobiganj District of Sylhet Diocese, where mostly Muslims and Hindus live. The bishop appreciated this missionary approach. “First comes the witness of Christian living, the witness of practical love,” he affirmed with enthusiasm.

God Sends His Angels

During my first days in Hobiganj town, I walked and talked, that is, walked up and down the mile-long main street and spoke with anyone who looked like they wanted to converse. At a bookstore, a lady teacher, upon hearing of my need to find a room, suggested that I see the headmaster of the government high school just across the street. Headmaster Gaffar was sympathetic and offered me a teacher’s room on campus for “up to four months duration.” Through Gaffar, God was clearly intervening in my quest for shelter in the crowded town.

Simple Rewards

In village Tetuia, Tanvir’s grandfather, Rajob Ali, was so happy to receive his 7-month old grandson back home after surgery that he wanted to reward me. Rajob offered me fresh milk and went through the motions of milking the family’s cow to make it clear to me that the milk would be unadulterated. However, not even his pantomime convinced me to accept warm milk fresh from the udder, especially because many cows in Bangladesh suffer from TB or worm infestation. I thanked him for the kind offer and explained why I stopped drinking milk at age 18: my bones were already strong by then!

The Pilgrimage Ahead

Hamid, the wiry, retired gateman of the high school, always asks me whether or not I have eaten. That is the normal way for Bengalis to show regard for their partners in conversation. I had just eaten supper so I itemized for Hamid what I had eaten: rice, vegetable curry, lentil soup, and cucumber. He smiled upon hearing the familiar names. “We eat, we live, we die, all according to the time Allah has fixed for us,” Hamid commented. He knows there is more to life than eating. Even so, he enjoys hearing precisely what I ate – even if they are always the same four items.

The Common Bond

I had already purchased bananas at Nozrul Islam’s fruit stand several times before. But our first conversation came much, much later. He knew no other Christian but me. It pleased him to learn that I wished to help unite people. “There are many similarities between Muslims and Christians,” he proposed. I agreed with his insight and added that I believe there are deep similarities between persons of all faiths. Nozrul seriously nodded in agreement, but said no more. He had been accustomed to dwelling on the dissimilarities between himself and persons of other faiths. The truth is we are all one family.

Among Brothers

During Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, Mamoon invited me into his home. When he and his wife started to prepare a snack for me, I reminded him that I, too, was keeping the fast with them. His mouth fell open in surprise. “You are a Christian and you are fasting with us?” Mamoon threw his arms around me. “You are doing so much for us!” Mamoon credited me for doing good for all Muslims by keeping the fast with them. Solidarity!

Grandfather of Souls

As I crossed a bridge to catch a bus, Parul, an NGO officer, was also crossing on the way to her village office. She is quite a pretty woman and wears an Islamic veil which leaves her face uncovered. Thus, people can see it and praise the Creator for her beauty. “What is his relationship to you?” the conductor of our bus asked Parul when she paid both our fares. “He is my grandfather,” she smiled back. Friends have told me how cool it is to have grandchildren. I know the feeling!

Infectious Zeal

When I prepared to bicycle away from the library, a collegian was waiting for me on the path. “I wish to converse with you,” he began. “I like what you do. I also would like to serve the people.” Not much more was said. Urging him to continue focusing on ways by which he could be even more useful to others, I called on the Best Giver to bless the young man.


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