Dhaka (AsiaNews) – “We will be very happy if Pope Francis comes in Bangladesh,” said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last Sunday during her meeting with Card Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (Propaganda fide).
The prelate was on the second stop of a three-nation visit to South Asia. After India and Bangladesh, he was supposed to travel to Nepal until 19 September, but the visit was cancelled for security reasons.
The invitation to Pope Francis comes from a predominantly Muslim country where various faiths coexist peacefully. In view of this, the cardinal praised the prime minister for her role in “maintaining religious harmony”.
During the meeting – which was attended by Archbishop George Kocherry, Vatican nuncio to the Bangladesh, and Mgr Patrick D Rozario, Archbishop of Dhaka – Ms Hasina stressed that her government encourages dialogue between people of different faiths and protects minorities’ right to religious freedom.
The prime minister also praised the “significant and constructive” role played by the country’s Catholic community in terms of human development, especially in the fields of education and social services.
Ms Hasina said that Bangladesh values its relations with the Holy See and wants to boost them further in the future.
For his part, the prelate said that he was overwhelmed by the country’s immense natural beauty and by the fact that people of different faiths* lived side by side peacefully.
Despite such apparent tolerance, Islamic fundamentalism is growing, especially among the political groups and parties that oppose Hasina.
Some Muslim extremists have in fact attacked free thinkers and pro-democracy activists, going so far as killing people they claim are atheists.
* Bangladesh has about 300,000 Catholics out of a population of 160 million.