Registration, buses and prayers: Bangladesh prepares to welcome the pope

Pope Francis will be in Dhaka from 30 November to 2 December 2017. Parishes are registering pilgrims. The organisation is handled by a central committee, plus twenty local and eight diocesan committees. Catholics in the north are sorry that the visit does not include a stop in the northern dioceses.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Hectic preparations are underway in Bangladesh for Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to Dhaka from 30 November to 2 December 2017.

“Catholics en masse are working on this great moment,” Dhaka’s Archbishop, Card Patrick D'Rozario, said, “from registering for individual events to organising meetings, from buses carrying the pilgrims to prayers in churches.”

A Catholic source stressed the pilgrimage aspect of the visit. "From the beginning, Card D'Rozario has emphasised the spiritual preparation of the faithful. He has stressed that the pope will come to Bangladesh as a pilgrim. Thus, we too are experiencing the waiting period as a form of pilgrimage."

The cardinal has issued some instructions about spiritual preparation. “He recommended each parish hold a community Rosary, a Mass, a moment of joint worship and a day of fasting. Each community will decide on the timing of the preparation, according to local needs."

“The organisation of events is handled by a central committee,” a Dhaka businessman said. “The cardinal has personally chosen those in charge, people who can unify and pay attention to the spiritual aspect of the visit."

At the local level, "twenty committees are full of activities,” Mgr D’Rozario said, “each with twenty, twenty-five people. There are are eight diocesan committees, who are receiving registration requests from the parishes."

Some Catholics in northern Bangladesh, in the Diocese of Rajshahi and Dinajpur, note that "preparing such a trip to Dhaka is not easy, especially given the distance."

Considering that it takes some eight hours to travel the 300 kilometres from the two dioceses to the capital, "It is understandable that it will be difficult for us to move. That is why we are sorry that the pastoral visit does not also include a stop in the north."

The visit includes five major events, Card D’Rozario explained: "Mass at Suhrawardy Udyan Park, where up to 100,000 Catholics and 10,000 other Christians can be expected; visit to Dhaka cathedral with about 800 lay people, high officials, foreign donors; the interreligious and ecumenical peace gathering of major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) with nearly 5,000 people; the meeting with young people from all religions with 10,000 people expected; and finally, the meeting with some 1,500 men and women religious, priests, and seminarians. "

“There is great anticipation in the country, even among the secular media,” the prelate said. “They are interested in the event and intend to broadcast it live on TV.” And “Many expect the pope to talk about the issue of the Rohingya refugees, which has recently generated so much interest in Bangladesh and Myanmar."

A Catholic professor reports that "each parish is registering people who want to participate. Names are then sent to the Central Committee, which ensures that applicants are known."

Determining the identity of participants is important for two reasons. "First, since the number of places is limited, it is best to favour people who have been involved in serving at the local level and who regularly attend their parish church compared to those who have never been seen. The second reason is security."

Security arrangements for the visit are designed to prevent violent acts by Islamic groups present in the country. "In case of visits by foreign leaders like the pope, security is in the hands of local forces, who beef up protection. But I don’t think more agents will be employed than those already planned," Cardinal said.

Finally, “there is concern,” another Catholic said, “because such an event can be very tempting for terrorists. It will not be will not be excessively guarded, but it will certainly be well secured."