Map of Bangladesh

Map of Bangladesh
for more detailed map, scroll to bottom of page

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


These have been long in coming, but they're worth the wait.  The internet in the US of A is gloriously fast.

I'm back in the rush of American life- NYC tonight and tomorrow, a presentation about Bangladesh as soon as I get back to New Jersey tomorrow night, Grandma's house on Friday, the shore Saturday through Monday, dinner and a play on Tuesday, and life goes on... It's all enjoyable but certainly faster paced than Bangladesh.

my new blog about my semester in Ireland and my travels to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Scotland, London, etc will be...

enjoy the videos


ok for some reason the videos didn't load, but you can visit

to see the Bengal Bouts Shuffle that we made in Dhaka the first week 

ok so for some reason the videos won't upload here, so the easiest thing to do to see some videos is go to the Bengal Bouts Shuffle link and then click on the other videos that I have posted on youtube from Bangladesh

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Good Bye Bangladesh

a brief table of contents for this long blog...
I) Some practical info
II) my final blog
III) pictures from our last week
IV) a section of Leo and Andrew's pictures from Mariamnagor
V) Leo's final reflection
I) Some practical info

A) This should be the last wordy post to this blog- all future posts will be only videos or pictures, unless I am divinely inspired to write more.

B) I will be studying in Dublin in the fall and doing some travel throughout Europe.  These adventures will be the last in my year of worldwide adventures to California, Rome, Bangladesh, Dublin, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and various other European destinations.  If you are interested in following the new Dublin Blog, check back on this blog later in August.  There will be a link.

C) I just got home this morning to New Jersey.  After saying hello and good bye to the other families, driving Leo to the bus station, and driving home, I have spent an ideal summer day swimming, eating, and talking at home.  Tonight we'll finish with Burgers, Watermelon, Corn on the Cob, my bangladesh slide show, America's funniest home videos, and an early Bed Time.

II) My Final Blog

The impact of the Congregation of Holy Cross and the Bengal Bouts boxing club has been enormous here.  This is in stark contrast to the difference I have made over these short two months.   Many times I have received a sad stare when I tell people I will be leaving within weeks, not even staying for the entire rainy season.  Still, witnessing various mission venues, interacting personally with many people, and getting meaningful time to relax, learn, and grow, has been of immense value.

The Congregation of Holy Cross, which first sent priests to Bangladesh around the same time that they sent priests to Indiana and founded the University Notre Dame, has been a unifying force for many underprivileged people.  In a country where the government is willing to give tea companies, police, and foreigners virtually free reign, the Catholic Church acts as a sort of union, giving minorities a voice in front of the law, the industries, and the Muslim neighbors. Currently, Holy Cross operates the two most prestigious colleges in the country (and is planning on opening another soon), six of the nine bishops in the country are Holy Cross priests, and the congregation has established half of the dioceses in the country.  The cross and anchors of a Holy Cross priest have come to be highly respected.

The impact of the Bengal Bouts boxing club is certainly appreciated as well.  In the past 6 years, our annual contribution to the Bangladesh missions has increased from $50,000 to upwards of $160,000.  Imagining that this would create a surplus or at least some new projects, I was thrilled, but I have learned that it is only filling a deficit.  As the number of native priests increases, the number of western priests with rich western friends decreases.  Fortunately, the number of western boxers is increasing.  The fundraising of Bengal Bouts become more and more imperative for the missionaries (who are nearly all native) to construct more schools, pay for better teachers, and provide more services for many people- Garos and Kashis, Bengalis and tribals, Catholics and non-Catholics.

As an individual, I really have not significantly changed Bangladesh (but that is not to say that Bangladesh has not significantly changed me).  On average, I taught for a meager 10 hours per week.  The rest of the time was spent talking, traveling, or celebrating, and most of this was with the priests and sisters, not the children.  My teaching has had some stunning results (the ambiguity here is intentional).  When I ask students to write negative sentences, I get “I kick didn’t not.”  When I ask them to conjugate a verb (present tense, past tense, and past participle), I still occasionally get “fight, forgot, forgiven.” When we sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm, dogs say “boo boo” and cows say “umba umba.”

The four of us, (Andrew, Leo, Kevin, and I) were blessed to be able to spend the last 4 days with Fr Tom McDermott (the uncle of a dear friend) in Dhaka.  We met for a couple hours each day to debrief and share.  What happened during those meetings was priceless.  I’ll share a few of our thoughts:

1) “Nothing is ever enough.” – Fr Tom
            -The path of careers and riches and education and success are all never-ending cycles of amassing more and more to one’s self.  The only path that gives more and more away is love.  There is no limit to how much one can get, how much one can succeed. There is no fulfillment in the path of more and more. The path of love ends with emptiness of self and fullness of union with God.

2) “The secret to life is making new mistakes, not old ones”- Fr Tom
            -“Just keep on buggerin’ on,” as Winston Churchill said.  Mistakes are not negative.  In fact, they are positive because, if we listen, they tell us what not to do next time.

3) “Our ancestors have given us the gift of freedom of vocation.  To forfeit this freedom for the sake of security, or in fear, would be disrespectful of them and of the great gift they have given.”
            - we talked a bit about freedom in general.  Full human life requires freedom, in its fullness

4) “I don’t mean to get up on my high horse, but I do love to get up on ‘em”- Fr Tom
            -sorry, you had to be there

5) “It felt like trying to help an elephant make love to a zebra”- Fr Tom
            -again, had to be there

A great line from a poem by TS Eliot reads, “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” This is so common in our modern, high-paced, get ahead or die trying lifestyles.  It is so uncommon in Bangladesh.  Thanks to Holy Cross, all the Srimangal and Mariamnagor people, the Bengal Bouts, and the coordinators of the International Summer Service Learning Program, the four of us have received a wonderful gift.  We were given the gift of an experience, melting with meaning, saturated with significance, plump with purpose. May God continue to stir this in us.  Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love.


III) Pictures from our last week

Last Supper in Dhaka

On the Dhaka-Dubai flight I befriended this Japanese flight attendant, named Ai, on Emirates Airlines.  It was Leo's birthday so we woke him up for the is last minute birthday picture- Ai also wrote him a nice birthday card.

Ai with everyone once we landed in Dubai

Dubai airport- We had a picture here back in May with Juni and wearing totally different clothes.  Juni is the Hagen Daas worker we bought ice cream from.  We tried to find him again, but apparently he was not on duty.

With Fr Frank Quinlivan, the provincial of Holy Cross' Bangladesh Province 

with Fr Tom McDermott

Sr Marian Theresa just died.  She was the first Bengali Sister of Holy Cross and the principal of Holy Cross College in Dhaka for 38 years

with Sr Pauline at Holy Cross College, the best women's college in the country

Bengal Bouts entirely funds this technical school for orphans, for only about $1000 per month

with the boys at the Holy Cross Brothers' technical school

We had lunch with Monsignor Mark (from Kenya) and Archbishop Joseph Marino (from Alabama)- Archbishop Marino is the Vatican Embassador to Bangladesh, aka the Apostolic Nuncio

sand barges come up the river to deposit sand in low area of the city.  This creates more land, since there are so many people.

some of the Bengali seminarians in Dhaka loved to play chess

just a cool picture.  Outside of every chapel, there is an army of shoes.  This was one of the smaller armies.  I missed the larger ones, unfortunately because I rarely carried my camera to mass.

And this blog has totally neglected Leo and Andrew's experiences, so here is a section devoted entirely to them and their pictures.  There is also a reflection from Leo at the bottom.

lungi man, lungi man

"Welcome!"- sorry, inside joke, ladies and gentlemen- now let's get on with the proceedings

fotua and a panjabi at the same time?!

two handsome boys.  Are those baker's hats?

pose number 2

pose number 3

not much to say about this one

cute kid.  Leo liked to take solo pix

What a caring teacher

the second Bangladeshi kid we found who wears UCONN stuff. who knew?

those two on the left look bored


The one on the right was known for two things, neither of which is her boxing prowess-
1) her scowl
2) her smile
This picture nicely captures both

One of their favorite pictures.


V) Leo's final reflection

This is an email from Leo, addressed to his friends and family, and edited (just slightly) by yours truly...

I am sitting in my room in Dhaka after eating lunch here.  We arrived about an hour ago after saying goodbye to home, father Shubash, and the kids in Mariamnagar.  At this point I don’t really have much in the way of funny stories or largely captivating experiences to write about.  We travelled to Jalchatra and Pirgatcha, the churches that the boxers have gone to the past 2 years, and returned with 3 or 4 days left to spend at the parish.  I may have doubled my count of pictures and videos in those last couple days as I knew that I was going to be saying goodbye to everyone much too soon.  

Me and Andrew spent all the time we pretty much could with the kids.  Playing soccer, doing some work, and just going to the hostel to hang out.  Broke out the boxing gloves one last time and let both the boys and girls go at it a bit. (The girls made for some pretty funny boxing videos.  We had gotten letters from some of the kids we got to know the best in the last couple days and I responded to them and gave them out yesterday, as it was our last day.  

I did not really know what kind of emotions I would feel upon leaving.  I was expecting to be sad, but I didn’t really know what else to expect besides that.  We slept in a bit on Sunday and didn’t go to 7:00 am mass but got up for breakfast and 9:00 mass.  After mass, Father Alex had us come up and the people sang a traditional tribal song and gave us flowers.  After he asked us to say a few words. I had to cut myself off a bit short as I was getting choked up.  This, on our last day, was really one of the first times that I have felt sadness to this level, and I really didn’t know that many people in the congregation.  Many I recognized, but I did not really know many that well.

We finished mass and some of the teachers that I had in class came up to us to thank us and say goodbye, and one that we knew best was on the verge of tears and this was extremely touching for me to know that our presence in Mariamnagar may have actually had an impact.  After this, we went and said goodbye to a couple more people we had gotten to know and came back for lunch.  The rest of the day was spent predominantly with the girls in their hostel and also a little with the boys.  

At 6:30 the kids put on a cultural program for us as a final goodbye and again I was asked to talk.  Right as they were calling me up to talk, the electricity went off and so the room was completely dark.  They still wanted me to talk then though before they turned on the generator.  It was very odd for me, I could not see any of them and they could only see me because father was shining a light on me.  The speech left me feeling very strange.

First off I felt like I was talking to an empty room because there was no light. Secondly, it seemed like I was saying a recited and memorized speech because I said something very similar to what I said at mass in the morning.  For the rest of the night, I really did not feel the level of sadness I thought I was going to.  I was extremely close with the kids and I was figuring that I would be crying almost all night at the program.  However, as I said to Andrew, I almost felt like I was at a funeral for a person I didn’t know.  I recognized it as an extremely sad moment, but for some reason, even amidst hugging the kids as they were crying, I felt surprisingly cold.  The emotions were just extremely confusing for me and I really didn’t know what to expect come the morning when I would get to see them very fast after they had mass.  

In the morning, we finished packing and had breakfast before going to the bus station to catch our bus to Dhaka.  The kids all came to the door as I was coming out and I said goodbye to each of them individually (they don’t hug in their culture so when I would go to hug them, they wouldn’t really know what to do, it was kind of odd). Surprisingly, I still felt colder than expected.  It wasn’t until I was on the back of the motorcycle pulling away and I yelled back to them one last time and then the emotions finally hit me.  

It is not often in life that you say goodbye to someone probably for the rest of your life.  It all hit me in that moment that these kids I loved so much, and father Shubash, who became my very good friend, I will most likely never see again. Some of the kids wrote us a last letter and gave them to us as we were leaving and it was very difficult to read on the bus as these letters and some pictures on my camera are all I have, along with my memories of times, to remember these people.

I know for a fact that I will never forget me time here or the people that I met in this country.  They are the most generous and open people I have ever met. This will most likely be my last email, though I may send one when I land in New York just to say I arrived safely.  I thank you for all of your prayers and thoughts while I have been abroad, and I only have one more request for you.  Do not pray for me, but pray for the people living in Bangladesh.  

I would be more than happy to sit down with anyone and tell them about my time here, and just the amazing people that are living here.  Thank you all once again.

Leo DiPiero

Monday, July 18, 2011

Good Bye Srimangal

Ironically, in the gospel reading at mass today, Jesus warned people not to ask for signs but rather just to have faith.  God gives signs as gifts, not on request.

Also, I sang the National Anthem for my class during our last period together.  They had just finished singing a heartfelt "Amar Shonar Bangla" (My Golden Bangla) to me, so I stood up and sang the Star Spangled Banner to them.  For the second time in my life, our national song brought me to tears.

Today we head  back to Dhaka.  We just finished delivering signed boxing gloves and pictures to each of the hostels where we have friends and students.  Our gifts were joyfully accepted, but our departure has not been tearless.  I'm not just talking about the national anthem.  Many girls were in tears, asking if we would forget them (and we haven't even left town yet, let alone the country!). 

Today will be our first time on a Bengali train.  It will be slower than bus but cheaper and less of a heartattack for me.  I'm excited to experience one because so far my only experiences have been through the movie Ghandi and when we've seen people on them, hanging half of their bodies out the window for fresh air.  I'm also excited because, as many of you know, train is my favorite way to travel in the US- we'll see if the same holds true for Bangladesh.

Also, look back at my last post if you haven't.  You may have missed the Medjugorje post because this is my second in two days.

this woman is doing double duty! In this picture we are about to celebrate mass in Nashimabad

Lehane, our wonderful hired driver (named after Fr Joseph Lehane who served this parish for 40 years)

Kevin teaching blackjack- look out for these Bangladeshis in casinos in a few years

I'll be kissing US soil soon, and singing the national anthem loud and proud,

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Kevin doing some extra-curricular teaching

The basketball court is finally finished.  Our first day playing hoops with the kids.

swimming... a daily pastime now

Kevin trying on a lungi- the local substitute for men's pants

just looking cool

building more sidewalk up to the church.  All building material is carried on heads

My name is Jep

playing limbo- this girl learned the hard way

Amar prio paribar ebon amar prio baree-
transllation: my favorite family and my favorite house

gotta love the last name.  It's "funny", to say the least

our last time having khasi tea- it's very heavy on cream.  Kev loves it

duck duck goose anyone?

the boys gave us haircuts

RNDM sisters Shongita, Sukriti, Leiza, and Kakon (spellings are probably awful)
this is one of my signature picture memories from Bangladesh.  The girls in the RNDM house always give us the best greeting and good bye!

out to dinner.  Unbelievable food, service, atmosphere, all for under $5 per person

good bye to Kevin's 8th grade class

More pictures will come tomorrow, which is our last day in Srimangal.  Btw, we just got LAN internet here so it's getting faster just in time for us to leave

I am living, breathing, playing, sleeping, eating, and writing here in Bangladesh, but my reading has taken me to Yugoslavia.

I’ve been reading a book entitled Medjugorje.  For those who don’t know, this is where Mary (yes, the mother of Jesus) allegedly appeared daily to six Yugoslavian children for years.  The author of the book is Wayne Weible and he writes incredibly honestly.  In a moment, I’ll tell you what I mean, but first allow me to imitate his transparency.  When I was starting this book, I wanted to know more about the apparitions in Medjugorje, so as to decide for myself whether I believed them to be real.  I wanted a factual account, thoroughly investigated and approved by the Vatican.

I was repulsed when, after finishing a chapter or two, I learned that Wayne was a Lutheran, the book was his own personal story of religious conversion (spurred by his experiences at Medjugorje), and he constantly wrote in the first person (something a credible, factual, objective author avoids like the plague)!  I was disappointed and even a little disgusted, but I had read enough (it was fortunate that I did not read the summary on the back of the book before beginning, or I would have put the book right back on the shelf) that I was hooked, at least for a few more chapters.  Now, having finished the book, I am pretty strongly convinced of the veracity of the supposed occurrences in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia.  What has happened there is both beautiful and astonishing.

Pick up a book about Medjugorje to learn more than this blog will tell.  I will focus on just a few things it has helped me with.

To regress a bit, I mentioned above that Wayne writes honestly.  What I mean is that he does not shy away from sharing his feelings, speaking of the supernatural, and invoking the divine.  He openly writes about visions, heavenly messengers, audible messages, and miraculous gifts from God. To mirror its author’s own spiritual journey, the book’s descriptions of such events move from skeptical and cautious, in the early chapters, to accepting and regular, as if we were discussing the weather or a freshly cut lawn. 

Ok, don’t lose me here.  Wayne firmly declares that in the mid 1980’s he heard a voice, the voice of Mary, telling him to spread the message of Medjugorje.  Now, he has made it his life’s mission to do just that (though it wasn’t a simple road).   I was always skeptical when I heard vocation stories in middle school about priests and sisters feeling called or even hearing a call.  My practical mind told me it was ridiculous that St. Augustine opened to a random line from scripture and consequently changed his whole life.  Nevertheless, believing that most people are not granted such immediate clarity, one day in Malloy Hall, in the Seat of Wisdom Chapel at Notre Dame, I opened up the bible and asked God to do the same for me. 

I don’t know how strongly encouraged this is, or even what the answer in my own life will be, so take this with a pound of salt, but the words I read were “the Lord has sworn it.  You are a priest forever, according to the order of Malchesadek.”  I don’t know remember exactly where that verse is from (though I want to say Psalms), and it has not made me join the seminary yet.  In fact, since reading that verse, I have dated two wonderful, Catholic girls.  Even now, I feel pretty strongly called to single life, not to religious life or marriage.  I don’t know if this call is just temporary, but it is there.  Maybe this is God’s way of making me take a step toward priesthood.  I don’t know. I can only pray, prepare, and listen.

There are so many variables in situations like this.  I cannot keep track of all of them, and therefore I cannot offer any concrete advice or conclusions.  What I can say is that I will graduate college with a degree in Catholic theology, I have learned how to say the liturgy of the hours, and I am constantly trying to improve my faith, my prayer life, and my devotion to daily mass.   What all of these things have in common is that priests do them.  If my experience in the chapel was a totally random, I think God will show me a different path, but if it was something meaningful, the least I can do is prepare myself.

Concerning messages, visions, healings, supernatural events, and the like, I think it is wrong to expect them.  Wayne writes, “the miracle of Medjugorje was focusing on our acceptance of life as it was,” not on miracles.  I still believe that most people will discover their vocation slowly, methodically, naturally, but simultaneously I believe divine intervention is possible in anyone’s life, no matter how rich or poor, how holy or evil, how average or extraordinary.

If one wants to decide if something really comes from God, one must look at what it creates.  If you want to know how good a fountain is, look at the water that flows from it.  If you want to know if the tree is healthy, look at the fruit.  The village of Medjurgorje used to be an average, tiny village in the mountains of communist Yugoslavia.  The people, though simple, were gradually drifting away from faith and church in favor of modern pragmatism.  They lived normal lives, not notable for much besides neighborly quarrels.  Now, the town’s 200 families attend mass almost daily, the people welcome visitors/pilgrims into their own homes, and God has become central to their everyday existence.  Faith and prayer are the anchors of their individual lives, their families, and their now-harmonious community.  I cannot describe this enough in such a small space.  The water is pure, the fruit is ripe, what is happening in Medjugorje is good.

We must use the same method in discerning personal vocation, life decisions, or almost anything.  We can look at the products (like the water or fruit) and see if they are pure or polluted, ripe or rotten.

The five things that Mary seemed to stress most in the apparitions was:
1)      fasting (on only bread and water at least once a week)
2)      prayer (especially the rosary)
3)      penance
4)      conversion (of heart, not necessarily of religion)
5)      peace (first in the heart, then in families centered on faith, then in the world)

Oh, and one more interesting quote from one of the children who received the apparitions of Mary at Medjugorje.  He was asked if he has any leisure time with all the publicity that is focused on him.  He answered, “I do sports for recreation, and I watch them sometimes.  But they won’t take you to heaven.  So I often set sports aside.  Our Lady didn’t tell me to; I just did.” Food for thought for me.