Pope Francis flew back to Rome from Dhaka airport Saturday afternoon, concluding his 21st foreign visit outside of Italy that took him to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The Pope was given an official farewell at Dhaka airport, where the Minister for Foreign Affairs was present to see him take off on a Bangladesh Airlines aircraft on his flight back to Rome.
The Pope was in Myanmar, Nov. 27-30, after which he visited neighbouring Bangladesh, Nov. 30-Dec 2. While Myanmar’s over 51 million population is nearly 90 percent Buddhist, where 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 2-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 logos 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 the 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, in the backdrop of an international outcry against 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 peacebuilding and national reconciliation” saying it can be achieved on only through a “commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” a process in which religious leaders have a crucial role to play.
In Yangon, the Pope met Buddhist leaders and local bishops, but above all he went to meet ordinary Catholics, who travelled from all over the country to attend an open-air Mass.
In an unscheduled encounter with leaders of Myanmar’s various religious communities, Pope Francis urged them to work together to rebuild the country through unity amidst the nation’s diversity, and not through uniformity.
Meeting the bishops of Myanmar he encouraged them in the task of healing, accompaniment and prophecy among a flock that bears the scars of conflict.
In meeting the powerful Supreme Council of Buddhist monks, Pope Francis urged them on the path of compassion and love towards all to heal the wounds caused by conflicts, poverty and oppression.
Celebrating Mass for young people in Yangon, the last event in Myanmar, the Pope urged them to carry the good news of Jesus to their suffering brothers and sisters in need of not only their prayers and solidarity but their enthusiasm for human rights, justice, and love and peace.
After his arrival in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Nov. 30, Pope Francis met the nation’s authorities, the diplomatic corps and civil society, and expressed appreciation for Bangladesh’s generosity and solidarity for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar. He called on the international community to find a solution to the Rohingya crisis and help Bangladesh to meet the emergency. He also stressed that the name of God be never invoked to justify hatred and violence on others.
During an open-air Mass on Friday, the only papal Mass in this trip, the Pope ordained 16 new priests and reminded them of their call to serve Christ the teacher, priest, and shepherd and help build the people of God, the Church.
But the highlight of the entire Myanmar-Bangladesh visit came Friday evening in a deeply moving encounter with 16 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who have sought shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Grasping the hands of each of the 12 men, 2 women and 2 young girls, at the end of an interfaith and ecumenical meeting in the capital, the Pope intently listened to their stories of horror, suffering and pain. “The presence of God today is also called `Rohingya,''' the Pope said, asking their forgiveness for all the hurt and indifference they have endured, and demanded their rights be recognized.
On Saturday, the last day of his three-day visit to Bangladesh, the Pope visited a home for orphans, unwed mothers and destitute elderly run by the nuns of Mother Teresa. In off-hand remarks to the nuns and priests there he praised Bangladesh for having what he called some of the best inter-religious relations in the world. The Holy Father later met priests, religious and seminarians.
His last meeting of the entire trip was with young Bangladeshis, among whom were also Muslims and followers of other religions. Speaking to them at the Notre Dame College of Dhaka, he urged the young people to reject the false promises of happiness and go out of their self-centeredness to foster an environment of harmony, reaching out to others. Commending Bangladesh’s respect for the elderly, the Pope urged them to talk to their parents and grandparents, without playing with their phones the whole day, ignoring everything around them.
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