Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh, from November 26 to December 2, 2017, his third such journey, will include two events not foreseen in the initial program, noted Greg Burke: an interview with the head of the Burmese Army and the presence of Rohingyas during a meeting at Dhaka. Presenting this trip in the Vatican on November 22, the Director of the Holy See Press Office stressed, in particular, its inter-religious value.
The Holy Father will bring a message of reconciliation, pardon, and peace to these two countries. In this perspective, there will be a private meeting on November 30 with General Min Aung Hlaing. It was Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, who met with Pope Francis last November 18, who desired this interview. The aim, he explained, is “not to promote what [the general] has done, but to have a dialogue with him . . . Perhaps it might soften his heart and perhaps that could be the first step towards peace.”
Greg Burke also pointed out that a group of Rohingya refugees will attend the ecumenical and inter-religious meeting for peace, planned for December 1 at Dhaka, in Bangladesh. A meeting all the more delicate as the name of these Sunnite Muslims of Bengali language, who live in the north-west of the Rakhine state in Myanmar, is very controversial. The Government has prohibited the use of the term and has also asked the diplomatic community not to use it.
In the two countries, the Pontiff will travel in a non-armored closed pope-mobile. He will stay at the Archbishopric of Yangon and at the headquarters of the Apostolic Nunciature in Dhaka.
This third trip to Asia, after that to Korea (August 2014) and Sri Lanka as well as the Philippines (January 2015) is a visit “in the peripheries,” in far away countries where the Catholic community is “very small,” said Burke on Vatican Radio. In Myanmar, they represent less than 1.5% of the population, with some 700,000 faithful. In Bangladesh, 90% of the population is Muslim, 8% Hindu, and the remaining minority is made up of Christians, Buddhists, and traditional religions.
The “inter-religious” dimension in these two countries will be “very important,” stressed the Vatican spokesman. “Myanmar is in the main a Buddhist country, and Bangladesh is, officially, a Muslim country. Here also the Pontiff wishes to show again the significance of religion for peace and for reconciliation.”
The undertaking of these trips is also “a great aid” for Catholics, “a way of reinforcing them in the faith,” he added. “It is interesting that the Pontiff will end his visit in the two countries with a meeting with young people.” From the papal visit, small Catholic communities“ can also draw “great hope,” he added.
Recalling that Bangladesh has recently passed from an “underdeveloped” to a “developing” country, Greg Burke highlighted the Pope’s encouragement “to such poor lands.”
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester