11/24/2017, 12.13
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Kachin Pilgrims travel for three days and two nights to see the pope

by Paolo Fossati

About 200 people ae travelling from the remote north of the country, carrying with them the joy, prayers and suffering of the Christian majority ethnicity. Many are unable to see the pontiff because blocked up in refugee camps. They found hospitality at the parish of Saint Francis of Assisi. In the next few days, parishioners will receive around 1,300 Catholics. From our correspondent on the ground.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Three days and two nights on trains and railroads dating back to the colonial period. This is the arduous journey undertaken by the nearly 200 pilgrims who have arrived at the parish of Saint Francis of Assisi in Yangon. They are almost all Kachin, a Christian majority ethnicity, and they come from the far north of the country, devastated by the conflict that opposes the ethnic army to Burmese government forces. Despite the recent intensification of the clashes, the pilgrims did not want to miss the chance to meet Pope Francis, who on November 27 will begin his historic apostolic journey to Myanmar. They come largely from Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, but many are faithful from Hpakan, Putao and Bhamo.

"We are tired, but we will be rewarded when we see the Holy Father," some women say (photo 2). "Seeing the Pope is for us to see the face of Jesus. It is a grace, a blessing. Now we can die happy and at peace," they say. Along with all the other pilgrims, they bring with them the prayers and the suffering of all the Kachin who for economic and security reasons will not be able to attend the solemn Mass of  November 29 at the Kyaikkasan Ground in Yangon, the main event of the Pope's visit to Myanmar . "Our Idp brothers and sisters [Internal displaced people] cannot move from the refugee camps they live in. That is why we hope the Pope's visit can contribute to peace and stability in Kachin state. We hope for a change in the  situation." Despite the difficulties faced to reach Yangon, the joy of pilgrims is tangible. Petru Longgam, 83, can hardly contain his happiness: "This is how we Kachin are, we like to talk, we are expansive. For the first time since we were converted, we will be able to see a Pope. It's incredible!".

The large group is only the first to be welcomed to the parish church of St. Francis of Assisi. Tomorrow 500 more pilgrims are expected, and 700 more days later. The parish, like all Yangon churches, collaborates with the Bishops' Conference (Cbcm) to cater for all the pilgrims who  will pour into city from all over the nation. Every parish wants to make a contribution and there are several volunteers to care for arriving pilgrims. Some prepare food, some are in charge of laundry and others register new arrivals (photos). The apostolic journey of Pope Francis represents the third opportunity for all Burmese Catholic communities to meet and exchange their own experience of faith. The first was in 2012, for the 100th anniversary of St. Mary's Cathedral. In 2014, Catholics celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Burmese Church.

Father Jacob (photo 3), parish priest of St. Francis of Assisi for over eight years, comments on these moments: "The visit of the Holy Father is a miracle. Everyone is happy to help, it's a formidable celebration. This event encourages faith and love. Our parish has about 1,300 faithful and will host as many pilgrims as possible. Everyone is happy to welcome them, even the Muslims and Buddhists living here. This is a sign that the Pope's journey may also be a time of dialogue and can contribute to the process of national reconciliation. Catholic faith unites, it does not divide. I am an example: I am of Kharen ethnicity, I have buddhist father and mother," concludes the priest.

Not far from the parish, the Kyaikkasan Ground is located, where teams of workers work day and night to finish the stage decorations where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass. It was built according to Burmese tradition for religious buildings, which can be found in many Buddhist temples. On the pediment stands a golden christogram (photo 4).

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