08/29/2017, 14.50
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The Pope's visit to Myanmar. 'Hope for Peace'

by Lawrence Jangma Gam

Joy, expectations and fears of the small and young community of the country. Bishops: "Like the Good Shepherd, the Holy Father wants to meet his flock, privileging the insignificant Churches." In the country there are 16 dioceses, 23 bishops and one cardinal elected in 2015. There are 700,000 Catholics, only 1.37% of the population. Archbishop Pyone Cho of Pyayn: "Your visit will affect the promotion of concord." Sister Dennis Ja Tawng: "Myanmar suffers ethnic conflicts, but the Pope will redeem this land."

Yangon (AsiaNews) - For the first time in history, the Burmese Catholic Church is preparing to welcome a visit by a Pope to Myanmar. Welcoming the invitation of their respective heads of state and bishops, the Vatican announced yesterday that Pope Francis will travel to Myanmar from 27 to 30 November 2017, visiting the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, and Bangladesh from November 30 December 2, visiting the city of Dhaka.

The announcement has filled the small and young Catholic community of the country with joy. Of the 51 million inhabitants of Myanmar, only 700,000 are Catholics . Muslims represent 4.3% and Hindus 0.5%. The Catholic Church is present in the territory with 16 dioceses; the bishops, active and retired, are 23 and the first cardinal was elected in 2015.

Welcoming the Holy See Press Office statement,  the leaders of the Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (Cbcm) announced the papal journey to the faithful through a press conference with local media. Msgr. Felix Lian Khen Thang, bishop of Kalay and chairman of the Cbcm; Msgr. Saw Yaw Han, auxiliary bishop of the city; Msgr. John Hsane Hgyi, bishop of Pathein were present. Card. Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, intervened reading a Cbcm statement from the Philippines where he is visiting.

"We joyfully announce the news of the confirmation of the Pope's visit to Myanmar. – said Card. Bo - The government believes that the papal visit will promote peace and fraternity in the nation and for this reason invited the Holy Father. One of the motives of the trip is the Pope's desire to meet the small Catholic community. Like the Good Shepherd, the Holy Father wants to meet his flock by privileging the insignificant Churches. We hope that the Pope will meet not only the high offices of the state but also the religious leaders and the common people. "

With the statement, the Cbcm wanted to emphasize the true reasons for the apostolic visit in an attempt to undermine the controversy and fears raised by the appeal to the Rohingya that Pope Francis had made at the Angelus on August 27th. In the light of the new episodes of violence that recently erupted in the northern state of Rakhine, where this Muslim ethnic minority resides, the words of the pontiff attracted harsh criticism from the Buddhist majority of the population. Some Catholics, eager to meet the pope for the first time, feared that his visit was driven by humanitarian and non-apostolic reasons.

Bishop Pyone Cho of Pyayn, in the region affected by the conflict, declares to AsiaNews: "I am so happy for the news of the visit His Holiness to Myanmar. He is not only the leader of the entire Catholic Church, but also a promoter of peace and has a great reputation in the international community. His visit will promote concord, which the people long for. This will be of great benefit, which we cannot foresee at this time. During his visit, the Pope will speak from the depths of his heart to all the people of Myanmar. Because he is one of the most respected leaders in the world, people will love him and remember his visit in a positive way. "

Sister Dennis Ja Tawng, head of the magazine of the Catholic Religious Conference of Myanmar (Crcm), speaks of her joy in the Cbcm announcement: "Myanmar has been a closed country for a long time, we have prayed for the Holy Father's journey. I have always hoped for a Papal visit to our country. When Pope John Paul II went to Thailand, I prayed for this to happen but this was not the case. I was sad to hear that he could only bless Myanmar from the plane. Now the confirmation of Pope Francis's visit repays all my expectations and dreams. "

"The nation - continues the nun - is hungry for peace, every Burmese desires it. The hope is that this apostolic journey, through the blessing and mediation of the Pope, will mark a new path for reconciliation and peace. With his presence in a dangerous country like Myanmar, the leader of the Catholic Church puts its own security at risk. He will be welcomed and greeted by ordinary citizens. He will meet not only Catholics but also Buddhists and other religious groups. The Pope will bless and purify this country. Myanmar suffers from ethnic conflicts, but the pope will redeem this land. "

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