Pope visits Myanmar and Bangladesh
Pope Francis flew back to Rome from Dhaka airport 2 December 2017, concluding his 21st foreign visit outside of Italy that took him to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The Pope was in Myanmar, from 27-30 November, after which he visited neighbouring Bangladesh, 30 November- 2 December 2017. While Myanmar’s over 51 million population is nearly 90 percent Buddhist, Catholics form only 1.2%, in neighbouring Bangladesh Muslims account for nearly 90% of the population, and Catholics less than 1 percent.
The purpose of this two nation apostolic visit was not only to confirm the faith of the tiny Catholic communities in the two Asian nations but also to carry Christ’s message of reconciliation, forgiveness, peace and harmony among the people for the common good. And that is what the logo and themes of the two visits indicated. The theme of the Pope’s Myanmar visit was “Love and Peace”, and that the Bangladesh, “Harmony and Peace.” The Pope also encouraged ecumenical and interfaith cooperation in order to be a prophetic and healing presence in the life of the nation.
In both nations, the Catholic communities are active, especially in their outreach programmes for the poor and needy, which the Pope commended and encouraged. Overall, the Pope delivered 8 discourses and three homilies, celebrating two Masses in Myanmar and another Mass in Bangladesh with priestly ordination.
During his visit to Myanmar, the pope met popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the president and the top military general, against the backdrop of an international outcry condemning the atrocities on the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state who are fleeing to Bangladesh. The Holy Father, however respected the government’s request not to use the word Rohingya, who are denied citizenship.
Meeting Myanmar’s state authorities, leaders of civil society and the diplomatic corps in Nay Pyi Taw, he encouraged the nation on the “arduous process of peace building and national reconciliation” saying it can be achieved only through a “commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” a process in which religious leaders have a crucial role to play.