Thousands of Burmese await the pontiff, but also Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino and Australian. Armed forces deploy tight security measures.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – As Pope Francis touched down at the international airport, the streets of Yangon were full of pilgrims, awaiting for his arrival in the city.
The traffic is more chaotic than usual and the main arteries are bumper to bumper. Although there is no public event on the agenda today, the faithful from all over Myanmar intend to give a warm welcome to the Pope. About a third of Burmese Catholics have flocked to Yangon, followed by many Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino and Australian.
There are six places in the city where pilgrims can gather to greet the passage of Pope Francis. Groups of faithful, all wearing the celebratory t-shirt of the apostolic journey, set out along Pyay road three hours before the Pope's plane landed, regardless of the heat and the sun. There is a perceptible climate of celebration, and Catholics wave the flags of Myanmar and the Vatican, while the traditional clothes many of them wear pay homage to the many ethnic groups that make up the Burmese people.
Meanwhile, the security measures adopted by the Burmese armed forces are impressive. Police units have been deployed since last night along the entire path that the papal procession will take, from the airport to the archbishop's residence, and near the buildings of the Church. In the places attracting the attention of international journalists, the special police presence is evident, with several plain cloths officers on the ground since yesterday morning at the press centre set up in the Shangri-La Hotel.
In recent days, rumours of possible demonstrations by Rakhine Muslims have been circulated to exploit the apostolic journey to give greater voice to their cause. However, in many people's view, the source of the rumours is the authorities themselves who often use such alarms as an excuse to tighten the presence of police and army in the territory. Serious checks have been announced at the Kyaikkasan Ground Mass, which will not even spare volunteers coordinated by the Bishops' Conference (Cbcm). AsiaNews sources report that the authorities intend to limit their number, fuelling tension.