About 180,000 people took part in the solemn Mass celebrated at Kyaikkasan Grounds in Yangon. Muslims, Buddhists and many foreigners were also present. Pilgrims were moved by the service. The authorities imposed a number of bans. From our correspondent
Yangon (AsiaNews) – "The pope, the vicar of Christ, came to our country to bless the people, the nation, and the leaders. This is the contribution of the Holy Father to Myanmar's reconciliation process,” said Mgr Philip Lasap Za Hawng, bishop of Lashio, a city in the northern part of the eastern Shan state.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he noted that "Our members belong to very different ethnic groups, but his visit unites us all. It invites us to respect and love ourselves. As the pope reiterated this morning, revenge never brings anything good. Responding to controversies with love, respect and understanding, rather than violence, will bring the Burmese people to peace and harmony. Catholics cannot escape this calling."
On the sidelines of the solemn Mass celebrated this morning by the pontiff at Yangon’ Kyaikkasan Grounds, the bishop said that the history-making apostolic visit represents for the members of Myanmar’s small Catholic Church a spur to become the heralds of peace in the country, which is still reeling from years of dictatorship and ethnic conflict.
For Mgr Paul Zingtung Grawng, archbishop emeritus of Mandalay, Pope Francis's appeals in favor of national reconciliation are also very important. "Pilgrims who arrived here this morning gained courage and hope from the words of the Holy Father. It might take time, but thanks to this historic event, the country will be able to rise, "said the prelate.
The solemn service, the main event in the pope's first trip to Myanmar, drew some 180,000 people, according to the organisation's reported figures. Pilgrims came from all over the country, some facing long and difficult trips.
As Pope Francis noted in the homily, some travelled for three days to be at the historic meeting. Many of the displaced people in the north of the country even worked for three weeks in China on sugarcane plantations, to raise the money to pay for travel costs.
At 10 pm last night, pilgrims began filing into the vast Kyaikkasan Grounds, where they spent the night, waiting for the early lights of dawn by reciting the rosary and singing hymns to the Virgin. This broke the tensions that characterised the eve caused by the authorities’ decision to ban traditional songs and dances.
According to the military, such activities could have led the crowd to a state of euphoria, which poses a danger to public security. Nuns too were not allowed to place flower arrangements on the altar of the platform set up for the Mass.
However, this morning, edginess gave way to joy. Tens of thousands of Vatican and Myanmar flags welcomed the pontiff, who arrived in his car, which drove several times (pictured) around the field so that he could say hello to the pilgrims, including many Buddhists (pictured), Muslims (pictured), and Catholics from other Asian countries.
In an orderly fashion, people followed the Mass with great intensity, listening to the words of Pope Francis in solemn silence. Songs in Latin, which local Catholics love, moved people.