The pontiff is expected from 30 November to 2 December. This will be the first visit after John Paul II's visit in 1986. It is a state visit as well as a pastoral visit for Christians and Muslims that will stimulate dialogue between religious communities. An interview with the archbishop of Dhaka follows.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The presence of Pope Francis among the people of Bangladesh will bring "great joy to all," said Card Patrick D'Rozario, archbishop of Dhaka, and the country's first cardinal. He spoke to AsiaNews about the pontiff’s upcoming apostolic visit in Dhaka from 30 November to 2 December. His visit, noted the cardinal, is “a blessing from God", and will be seen as a "pilgrimage of the Holy Father to the soul of the people".
For Bangladeshis, the visit will be a real "experience" of the pontiff, said Card D’Rozario who highlighted the direct contact the pope and people the will have. For the latter, it will provided an opportunity to touch him, be with him, stand on the same ground. It is as if the desire to experience the pope directly responded to an urgent need for the country’s "small flock of Christians" to have among them a holy man, God’s representative on earth. For this reason, people rejoiced when Francis announced his decision to visit Dhaka, and thus put into practice his desire to "go to the peripheries" of the world.
With respect to the exodus of Muslims Rohingya from Myanmar, the hottest topic of the last few weeks, "My personal opinion is that if the Holy Father speaks on the issue, he will appreciate the role of Bangladesh,” Card. D'Rozario explained. However, “About meeting the refugees from Myanmar, nothing is decided yet.”
How did you react to the news of Pope Francis’ visit to Bangladesh?
In it is in the first part of the year 2016 that the Honourable Prime Minister and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh invited His Holiness Pope Francis to visit Bangladesh. His intended visit was mentioned already a year ago. Since then we have been waiting for the official announcement which came on 28th August. With the news that the Holy Father plans to visit Bangladesh from November 30 to December 2, 2017, the people of Bangladesh and the Christian community were overjoyed. With heartfelt gratitude both the Christians and the people of other faiths accept his coming as a blessing from God and special sign of love from the Holy Father.
After 31 years, since the last visit of Pope John Paul II in 1986, people will be able to have him in their midst. This brings great joy to all.
What does it mean for the Catholic Community of Bangladesh?
For the Catholic Community in Bangladesh, the visit of the Pope is seen as a pilgrimage of the Holy Father to the soul of the people; the people will see the event as a pilgrimage of the Holy and Spiritual Person to them: they will see him, hear him, be close to him and touch him, standing on the same ground during the solemn Eucharistic Celebration.
For the Catholic Community in Bangladesh, the visit of the Holy Father will be an expression of the priority His Holiness gives to the people in the periphery as well as the small flock of Christians here. Christians will consider his visit as a recognition of their faith and their witness of the Gospel in the vast majority of the people who belong to other religions. Christians will experience the Holy Father’s visit as confirmation of their faith, encouragement and inspiration for the witness of their faith for the future.
What does it mean for the people of Bangladesh?
As head of the Vatican State, the Holy Father’s visit to Bangladesh will also be a state visit. Gratefully, within one year after independence of Bangladesh in 1971, diplomatic relations between the two countries were established. Since then, special and exceptional relations have existed continuously between the Vatican and Bangladesh, based mainly on common human and spiritual values.
Pope Francis’ visit to Bangladesh will be an expression of the priority he gives and the love that he cherishes in his heart. The Holy Father’s visit will be a celebration of religious and cultural harmony, celebration of heritage of human and moral values, celebration of love of humanity which is open to all without limits and boundaries, celebration of the evangelical and human values that society’s poor have. It is also expected that the international communities will hear the voices of voiceless through the Holy Father.
What does the papal visit mean for Muslims? And for interfaith dialogue and relations between the two communities?
The meaning of the papal visit can be seen first of all in light of the cultural, religious and spiritual heritage of Bangladesh and its people. Any person who is a spiritual leader is respected and honoured by the people of all religions in Bangladesh: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and also Christians. On that basis, Pope Francis is accepted as spiritual leader of the world, and will be accepted by the people of all religions, including Muslims. The people want to see Pope Francis, listen to him, touch him if possible, and be close to him. This will be considered a blessings by all.
Secondly, most of the popes, including Pope Francis, are also recognized as a voice of conscience for the world. Hence all the people of Bangladesh, without distinction of religion, will be willing to listen to him.
Thirdly, Pope Francis is loved by the people because he has shown many times his love and compassion to the victims of natural as well as man-made calamities and has spoken out on behalf of justice and humanity which the educated people still vividly recall.
The papal visit will be a celebration of the inter-faith dialogue and relationship that we already have, built into the cultural, religious and spiritual values and heritage of the people of all religions in Bangladesh. This celebration of inter-faith relations will be a confirmation of what we have. This message will be communicated to the other parts of the world.
Do you expect the pope to meet or speak about Rohingya Muslim refugees, on which you have already spoken out?
Since the main theme of the papal visit this year is harmony and peace, it will be natural for the Holy Father to speak in favour of harmony and peace in different areas of national life. I am not sure whether the Holy Father is going to speak directly on the burning issue of refugees from Myanmar. On this issue he has already spoken before. My personal opinion is that if the Holy Father speaks on the issue, he will appreciate the role of Bangladesh because Bangladesh has openly received and sided with the suffering humanity. The Church in Bangladesh too, is responding to the humanitarian needs of the refugees. About meeting the refugees from Myanmar, nothing is decided yet.
What do you expect from this visit?
We expect that a spiritual re-awakening will take place with the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Bangladesh. It will make a positive impact in the country. As part of the spiritual preparation, special prayers are being said; special spiritual exercises are being taken up, personally and as families and in church-based communities. I am sure that these will bring an inner strength and renewal to the Catholic Church in Bangladesh.
The main theme of the visit of the Holy Father “Peace and Harmony” has been taken by the Church to actualize its spirit. The people of the country, we believe, will be encouraged to work more zealously for harmony and peace. The mission of love and service, which carry the very identity of the Church, will be made better known by the historic visit of the Holy Father. The harmonious co-existence of people of different faiths, the richness of our cultures and hospitality of the people of this country will be expressed and shown during the upcoming visit of the Pope. Our faith and Christian charity will be strengthened and our commitment to serve the country and its people will be renewed.
In short, our expectations from the papal visit are: confirmation and recognition of the good things that we have, appreciation of what we are, a call to take care of the poor and the youth who are our dreams and hopes, an encouragement to work for integral human development and face the challenges of climate change, and a deepening of harmony in order to build peace in society. (ACF)