Christianity's first contact with the Indian subcontinent is attributed to the Apostle Thomas, who is said to have preached in southern India. Although Jesuit priests were active at the Mughal courts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the first Roman Catholic settlements in what became Bangladesh appear to have been established by the Portuguese, coming from their center in Goa on the west coast of India. During the sixteenth century the Portuguese settled in the vicinity of Chittagong, where they were active in piracy and slave trading. In the seventeenth century some Portuguese moved to Dhaka.
Serious Protestant missionary efforts began only in the first half of the nineteenth century. Baptist missionary activities beginning in 1816, the Anglican Oxford Mission, and others worked mainly among the tribal peoples of the Low Hills in the northern part of Mymensingh and Sylhet regions. Many of the Christian churches, schools, and hospitals were initially set up to serve the European community. They subsequently became centers of conversion activities, particularly among the lower caste Hindus.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs provided assistance and support to the Christian institutions in the country. In the late 1980s, the government was not imposing any restrictions on the legitimate religious activities of the missions and the communities. Mission schools and hospitals were well attended and were used by members of all religions. The Christian community usually enjoyed better opportunities for education and a better standard of living. In the late 1980s, Christianity had about 600,000 adherents, mainly Roman Catholic, and their numbers were growing rapidly.
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