11/30/2017, 19.26
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For Hindu and Buddhist leaders, Pope Francis is a messenger of peace and love in Bangladesh

Representatives of minorities talk about living together in society, progress and the truth that leads to development. Religions provide help in cases of violence. The non-war view can play a role in a world where fighting is everywhere. From our correspondent

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – "Pope Francis is welcome in Dhaka, we are looking forward to meet him. Everyone in Bangladesh will feel blessed by his presence,” said a Buddhist leader speaking to AsiaNews. "We are lucky, and we are grateful to him,” added a Hindu swami. “He is a messenger of peace and love. He is a symbol of hope, honesty and simplicity. We must show him respect from the bottom of our heart."

A few hours before the pope began his pastoral visit to Dhaka, we asked them how minorities live in a Muslim-majority country and how harmony can be built in such a complex society, where fast economic growth has not generated social equality and rights for everyone.

In Bangladesh, Buddhists are about 1 per cent of the population with some six thousand monks and 6,000 seminaries. Women are not admitted to the religious life. Hindus, on the other hand, are 8 to 10 per cent.

Venerable Bhikkhu Sunandapriya is secretary general of the Bangladesh Buddhist Federation. We met him at the International Buddhist Monastery of Merul Badda, a Dhaka neighbourhood.

"Our goal is to give voice to those who have none,” he said. “We support harmony, non-violence. We practice our religion freely and we have no concerns about our security. We want this country to live in a peaceful way. Our country is secular, the constitution says we are all the same."

He acknowledges though that "extremist groups perpetrating violence” do exist, “like those that attacked Muslims in 2012 in Chittagong and set fire to 22 Buddhist temples. For us it was very painful, but despite everything we always try to build the process of peace."

This can be seen in "the celebration of religious festivals, when we invite leaders of other confessions and they invite us to participate in theirs. Or the support we gave last year to the Hindu community of Nasirnagar, victim of an attack from fundamentalists over a fake picture that insulted Islam. More than 300,000 people of every faith demonstrated together."

For Swami Gurusevananda, assistant secretary to the Ramakrishna Mission in the capital's Gopibag neighbourhood, the country’s religious communities live together in harmony. Yet, he did not want to say how Hindus live in Bangladesh.

"We participate in interfaith programmes, and we meet leaders to stimulate dialogue.” But "The most important thing is to tell the truth. Instead, lies are often told. God is truth and if we tell the truth; this is for the development of society. Our Lord Shiva never says lies. If we preach truthfully, everything will follow, like spiritual development, education, institutions."

"We believe in peaceful coexistence, but today this is in danger,” he said talking about relations between religions. “We respect the Christian community, Jesus Christ, but also Buddha and Krishna.”

“All religions tell the truth, so why should I say that my religion is better than that of others? People fight around the world against each other. Instead, we teach non-war, non-clash. But there is no safe city; people are frightened; they live in fear of attacks. We want to support freedom."

Pope Francis "preaches peace, that everyone should live in brotherhood. For us it is the same,” said the Venerable Sunandapriya.

“We believe that all living things on this planet – humans, plants, animals – have the same dignity and deserve respect. That includes the Rohingya, for whom we are collecting offerings, which we give to support them in the camps in Cox's Bazaar. But the question must be solved by the government, because it is of national interest." (ACF)

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