Some 200,000 people are expected at the solemn Mass at Kyaikkasan Grounds, including Buddhist and Muslim leaders. Some 6,000 kids will take part in the Mass for young people the next day. Filipinos, Australians and Thais are also expected for Pope Francis’ apostolic journey. From our correspondent.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – Final preparations are underway in the main buildings and places of worship serving Yangon’s Catholic community as it gets ready for the arrival of Pope Francis, the first pontiff in history to visit Myanmar on an apostolic journey.
"These are really hectic hours," said Fr Mariano Soe Naing, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) and director of the latter’s Office of Social Communication (OSC), speaking to AsiaNews.
"Although almost everything is ready, we are now involved with Myanmar police to define a security protocol for the Mass the Holy Father will celebrate at Kyaikkasan Grounds on the morning of 29 November. Controls will be very strict to avoid anything that might cause disturbance," Fr Mariano said.
The highpoint of the papal visit, the solemn celebration, continues to attract the curiosity of Myanmar citizens. No one wants to miss the historic event, including non-Catholics.
In fact, in addition to the expected 200,000 Catholics from all over the country, the CBCM is still receiving requests for accreditation from many Buddhists and Muslims, but for organisational reasons they are only granted to religious leaders.
"We do not want people who are not accustomed to our religious functions to disrupt the Mass,” the CBCM spokesman said. “This also applies to the 300 or so journalists who will be present. We have a dedicated space for them in the stadium to prevent them from going about in the crowd causing havoc."
Meanwhile, in St Mary’s Cathedral, which is located in the heart of the city, volunteers are working hard to set up the section for young Catholics who will be central to the Mass on 30 November. As some work on the decorations inside the church (pictured), others work outside the building (pictured).
"Many kids will attend the Mass, about 6,000,” said Fr George (pictured), assistant priest in the cathedral. “However, only 1,000 will be able to sit inside. Another 2,000 will follow the service thanks to giant screens set up outside, and more than 3,000 will be outside the walls of the compound. They come from all the regions of the country and also from abroad: Philippines, Australia, Thailand. No one wants to miss it.”
"The kids are excited about the Holy Father’s arrival. He will encourage them to grow in their faith because they will be the Catholic leaders of tomorrow," the clergyman said. “The theme of the apostolic journey is 'Love and Peace' and through his message Pope Francis will hand them the responsibility to become the tool of peace and reconciliation in our country.”
Pilgrims on their way to Yangon will find hospitality in hostels set up by parishes and religious centres. However, as the day of the day approaches, more and more Catholics are looking for accommodations. The parish of Our Lady of Fatima (pictured), one of the most important in the city, is set to accommodate some faithful from northern Myanmar, almost all ethnic Chin.
"We were expecting a hundred pilgrims, but we are now preparing for nearly a thousand," said Fr Philip Mg Mg, the parish priest. "There are some organisational difficulties, but everyone is trying to make a contribution."
Unfortunately, many Catholics from northern ethnic groups, where civil war rages, cannot afford to travel for economic and security reasons and will not be able to reach Yangon.
Outside the church, a group of young people, ethnic Kachin volunteers, are working on a wooden structure (pictured). Yesterday, a powerful thunderstorm destroyed what had been set up. "It collapsed because Burmese built it. We are Kachin, mountain people. We know how to work wood; we are skillful and fast," said jokingly one Kachin who spoke to the AsiaNews correspondent.