Catholics ready to welcome the Holy Father in Yangon

The high point of the papal visit will be the Solemn Mass at Kyaikkasan Grounds in Yangon. Some 200,000 people from around the country are expected, about a third of all Myanmar Catholics. The Church will provide accommodations and transportation. Kachin people made the wooden crosier that Pope Francis will use during the service. As they wait for the pontiff, young people pray.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church of Myanmar is getting ready to welcome Pope Francis during his apostolic journey. The pontiff will visit the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw from 27 to 30 November.

"We are ready, it's all organised," said Fr Mariano Soe Naing, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) and director of the latter’s Office for Social Communication (OSC), speaking to AsiaNews.

The pope’s plane will land at Yangon International Airport at 1.30 pm next Monday. "Since the city is no longer the country’s capital, the reception ceremony will be simple but Catholics will still be able to offer a warm welcome to the Holy Father."

The high point of the papal visit will be the Solemn Mass Pope Francis will celebrate at Yangya Kyaikkasan Grounds (pictured) next Wednesday morning. "About 200,000 people are expected (about a third of all Myanmar Catholics) from all over the country,” Fr Mariano said.

“We have thought about every aspect of their stay,” he noted,” and will provide them with accommodations and means of transport to get to the place where the celebration will take place. The site has already been readied to receive the participants and the papal platform has already been set up.”

For the people of Myanmar, the first visit of a pontiff to the mostly Buddhist country is an historic event. "The majority of the population, especially religious leaders, have expressed great joy for the arrival of the pope,” the CBCM spokesman added. “Expectations are high, especially in Yangon, where people are excited, even if at first few had any clear idea about the figure and role of the pontiff.”

“To enable them to understand fully the meaning of the journey, this week, perhaps tomorrow, we will broadcast the Pope Francis's video message on national television."

Ordinary Catholics are also undertaking numerous initiatives on their own. In the far north, where violations of religious freedom of Christians are linked to the ongoing conflict between armed groups and government forces, Kachin Catholics made the wooden crosier Pope Francis will use during the Mass in Yangon.

"For years these Catholics have experienced the consequences of a tragic civil war that has forced them to abandon their homes and live in refugee camps," Fr Mariano explained.

Young people too are very active. They will play a central role during the Mass at St Mary's Cathedral on Thursday.

"They remember the Holy Father in all their prayers,” the clergyman noted. “They made the t-shirts they’ll wear in the coming days in his honour and have produced the official song of the visit as well.”