A woman from Myanmar feeds her child in a UN clinic for severely malnourished Rohingya children Oct. 28 in the Balukhali Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled government-sanctioned violence in Myanmar for safety in Bangladesh. CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

Papal visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh to preach dialogue

By 
  • November 23, 2017
VATICAN – While the ongoing crisis of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh will draw much attention during Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the two countries, the Pope will focus on interreligious dialogue, poverty and climate change.

“He will be insisting on economic justice and environmental justice,” said Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar. Justice in both areas would be “the major promoters of peace and harmony” in the region.

Although to different degrees, the two countries are struggling to establish a democracy that respects the religious and ethnic rights of minorities. Their issues are exacerbated by poverty and the difficulty of accessing very limited resources in a region of the world prone to droughts, flooding and cyclones.

Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar Nov. 27 and stay until the afternoon of Nov. 30 when he flies to Bangladesh. He returns to Rome late Dec. 2.

Although lively and growing, the Catholic communities in both countries make up less than one per cent of the population. The vast majority of people in Myanmar are Buddhist, while the overwhelming majority in Bangladesh are Muslim. Both countries are plagued by political, ethnic and religious tensions.

In Bangladesh, the Pope will ordain 16 priests. In 1986, St. John Paul II visited the country and ordained 18 men to the priesthood. One of the 18 is now Bishop Paul Ponen Kubi of Mymensingh.

“The Bangladesh Church has grown a lot,” Kubi told Catholic News Service. “We had only four dioceses and four bishops in Bangladesh; now we have eight dioceses and nine bishops.

“We are in the periphery,” he said, but Pope Francis’ presence “will make us known to the whole world. We feel proud of his coming.”

Bo told CNS that he expects interreligious initiatives for peace to be a major theme of the Pope’s talks in Myanmar where, like in other countries, religions can “become the tools for extremism. The Pope’s presence and his dialogue with various stakeholders would affirm the reconciling role of religions in this country.”

Myanmar and Bangladesh have experienced tensions between religious communities and the loss of lives in terrorist attacks. The Muslim faith of the Rohingya is cited as one of the reasons they often are seen as “foreigners” by Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar. Bangladesh, too, has had experience of hardline nationalists, this time Muslims, attacking members of its Hindu minority.

In both countries, the Catholic community has been a force for dialogue.

Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh, told CNS that interreligious dialogue “is not imported by us, it is part of our culture.”

“The Catholic Church is very active in a dialogue of service,” he said, with non-Catholics accounting for 90 per cent of those receiving medical care, education or development aid from the Church. Only about 30 per cent of the staffers are Catholic, but the entire staff discusses the human and religious values they have in common.

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