MNA Editorial Desk: Pope Francis, religious leader of 1.2 billion Catholics all around the world, is scheduled to visit Bangladesh from November 30 to December 2, 2017. Before arriving in Bangladesh, he will visit Myanmar from November 27 to 30. His program was declared in late August of this year. He will be the second pope to visit Bangladesh after Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1986. Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario has labelled the visit of Pope Francis as the ‘blessing from God’ as 3,75,000 Catholics of Bangladesh will get the opportunity to feel the presence of their religious leader alongside with them.
Pope Francis is not only the leader of the Catholics all around the world but he is also the Head of State for Vatican City. His visit will be a state visit and consists of several programs both in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
He was invited to visit Bangladesh by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Bangladesh during the first half of 2016. His visit will be a historical one for Bangladesh irrespective of religion as he is one of the most revered persons in the world. Pope’s role is very critical in establishing world peace. Pope Francis, after receiving papacy on March 13, 2013 following the resignation of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, has been on the side of the suffering people across the world. He has always prayed for the salvation of the people in pain.
After receiving papacy, Pope Francis, an Argentine born on 1936, has been in news for his modern approach which contradicts the conservative view of the Vatican. He has criticized the dictatorship of economy while he emphasized on the poor. He was not afraid to criticize the church and to change its structure and leadership.
He is also pushing for actions on climate change. He might change the stance of churches on the issues like; divorce, abortion, same sex marriage and contraception. He was applauded by the Muslim community for endorsing the state of Palestine. He has recognized the importance of all religions by showing respect to people of different backgrounds. He has opted for reducing the pain for people around the world irrespective of their religion or any other attributes. These characteristics of Pope Francis have made him very popular around the globe in a very quick time.
The motto and logo of Pope Francis’s visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar is declared as ‘Harmony and Peace’ and ‘Love and Peace’ respectively. As explanation was given, the motto of his visit is a call to harmony among religions, cultures, people, society, history, heritage and traditions in the country as well as a future aspiration with a vision of integrated human and spiritual development in Bangladesh.
Through this motto, the Vatican is focusing on establishment of communal harmony in Bangladesh irrespective of religion and ethnicity. But Bangladesh has already set examples of communal harmony and also been applauded by the world community for doing so. In recent years, people from all minority religions have celebrated their religious functions in a very peaceful manner.
The law enforcement agencies worked very hard to ensure safety and security at all religious festivals under the direct guidance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. No incidents of violence or vandalisms were reported during these festivals. On top of that, the Muslims have soulfully participated in these religious programs like; Durga Puja, which was celebrated in the largest scale of all time in 2017.
With the rise of some terrorist groups like; Neo-JMB and ISIS (still no concrete proof of their existence in Bangladesh), Bangladesh government was highly alert this year and successfully safeguarded the joyous celebration of the religious minority. In terms of ethnicity, Bangladesh government has been successful to provide equal rights to its citizens from different ethnic tribes. They are even provided quota facility in terms of receiving education and employment facility.
Since the independence of Bangladesh, communal harmony was restored everywhere in spite of few small incidents and insurgency at the Chittagong hill tracts area which was successfully settled under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina in her first term. So, with communal harmony already in place, the motto of pope’s visit could have been something different but of course, the Vatican might have some justification of their choices.
It is a great opportunity for Bangladesh to graciously host Pope Francis in our land. It would have been nice if he could have addressed the people of Bangladesh in a stadium or at any other open place. With few terrorist groups being still active, that might possess some risks but our government and law enforcement agencies have proved several times that they are well capable of handling such occasions with full safety and security.
The Myanmar visit of Pope Francis holds the motto of ‘Love and Peace’. But in light of the current situation of Rakhine state where thousands of Rohingyas are being brutally tortured and driven to flee from their own country to take refuge in Bangladesh, it is very difficult to restore love which is the next level after restoring communal harmony.
The majority of these tortured Rohingyas are Muslims and that is the main reason behind the wrath of the Myanmar army and the local Buddhists. It is absolutely necessary to establish communal harmony first before spreading the message of love, we believe.
Pope Francis has been sympathetic to the Rohingyas, a persecuted Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, as he spoke multiple times in support of the Rohingyas and urged the world community to act to reduce their sufferings. He said on August 27, “I would like to express my closeness to them and all of us ask the Lord to save them and to prompt men and women of good faith to help them and ensure their full rights.”
In spite of his continuous support for the Rohingyas and drive to ensure their rights, it is surprising that, in his schedule there is no visit plan for Rakhine State as well as Rohingya camps in Teknaf or Ukhia of Bangladesh. Pope Francis, who can play a vital role in establishing peace all around the world, might have included those places in his travel plan.
With his visit of Rohingya Camps as well as Rakhine state, the pitiful condition of the Rohingyas would receive renewed focus. But that is not the case till now though there is scope of change as Pope Francis usually likes to make sudden visits to important places like he did in Bethlehem while visiting the Holy Land in 2014. Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario also indicated that it is yet not sure if the pope will meet the Rohingya refugees or not.
Another aspect of the pope’s visit is Myanmar first and then Bangladesh. If the pope has visited Bangladesh before his visit to Myanmar, then he could have seen the sufferings of these Rohingyas at camps in Bangladesh. These Rohingyas have lost everything including their assets, their houses, their citizenship and on top of everything, their honour.
He could have heard their painful stories which would depict a picture of destroyed humanity. We are sure that, the situation of these Rohingyas would have moved Pope Francis and he could have put pressure on the Myanmar government during his visit to Myanmar afterwards. This is our own judgment on how this visit of the pope could have more impact on restoring the rights of the Rohingyas. We believe, Pope Francis, who has been a protector of humanity can play a vital role in ensuring proper repatriation and rehabilitation of the Rohingyas.
Not only the Christian community of Bangladesh but also the people from all religions are looking forward to the visit of Pope Francis. It is a success of the Bangladeshi churches that with a small number of Catholics, they have been able to prove their worth for pope’s visit.
It is a great opportunity for us to learn from the pope. We believe all religions are based on the concept of peace though people are violating that concept in the name of religion around the world. Pope Francis has shown respect and tolerance towards all faiths during his papacy and is a great example of harmony, love and peace.
We hope Bangladesh, being an example of prevailing communal harmony and peace, will have renewed emphasis on those after the visit of Pope Francis and the people of Bangladesh will develop greater urge for protecting humanity at all levels of the society.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA).