Longing for peace: Pope to preach dialogue in Bangladesh, Myanmar

IMAGE: CNS photo/Abir Abdullah, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While the ongoing crisis of Rohingya
refugees fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh will draw much attention during Pope
Francis’ visit to the two countries in late November, the pope also is expected
to focus on interreligious dialogue, poverty and climate change.

“He will be insisting on economic justice and
environmental justice,” said Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar.
Justice in both areas would be “the major promoters of peace and harmony”
in the region.

Although to different degrees, the two countries the pope will visit are
struggling to establish a democracy that respects the rights of minorities — both religious and
ethnic. Differences are exacerbated by poverty and the difficulty of accessing
very limited resources; the situation is further worsened by climate change,
which is evident in the droughts, flooding and increased power and frequency of
cyclones that move in from the Bay of Bengal.

Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are ranked in the top 10 on the “Long-Term
Climate Risk Index” published annually by Germanwatch think tank.

Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar Nov. 27 and
stay until the afternoon of Nov. 30 when he flies to Bangladesh. He returns to
Rome late Dec. 2.

Although lively and growing, the Catholic communities in
both countries make up less than 1 percent of the population. The vast majority
of people in Myanmar are Buddhist, while the overwhelming majority in
Bangladesh are Muslim. Both countries have been plagued by political and ethnic
tensions that have found religion to be an easy difference to exploit for
political gain.

In Bangladesh, Pope Francis will ordain 16 priests; in 1986, St. John Paul II visited the country and ordained 18 men to the priesthood. One
of the 18 is now Bishop Paul
Ponen Kubi of Mymensingh.

“The Bangladesh church has grown a lot,” Bishop
Kubi told Catholic News Service. “We had only four dioceses and four bishops
in Bangladesh; now we have eight dioceses and nine bishops.”

“We are a very small minority Christian community in
Bangladesh,” the bishop said, but all the people want “to live
together in harmony and peace,
though they are of many religions and cultures. I believe that Holy Father Pope
Francis will emphasize this.”

“We are in the periphery,” he said, but Pope
Francis’ presence “will make us known to the whole world. We feel proud of
his coming.”

Cardinal Bo told CNS that he expects interreligious
initiatives for peace to be a major theme of the pope’s talks in Myanmar where,
like in other countries, religions can “become the tools for extremism. The
pope’s presence and his dialogue with various stakeholders would affirm the
reconciling role of religions in this country.”

The theme of the visit to Myanmar is “Love and
Peace.” And, similarly, the theme of the visit to Bangladesh is
“Harmony and Peace.”

Both Myanmar and Bangladesh have experienced tensions between
religious communities and have mourned the loss of lives slaughtered in
terrorist attacks. The Muslim faith of the Rohingya is cited as one of the
reasons they often are seen as “foreigners” by Buddhist nationalists
in Myanmar. Bangladesh, too, has had experience of hardline nationalists, this
time Muslims, attacking members of its Hindu minority.

In both countries, the Catholic community has been a force
for dialogue.

Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh, told CNS
that interreligious dialogue “is not imported by us, it is part of our

“The Catholic Church is very active in a dialogue of
service,” he said, with non-Catholics accounting for 90 percent of those
receiving medical care, education or development aid from the church. Only
about 30 percent of the staffers
are Catholic, but the entire staff discusses the human and religious values
they have in common.

Also, he said, people in Bangladesh — from the president
and prime minister on down — make a point to participate in each other’s major
feasts. So dialogue “is not just a cerebral discussion, but a

“The Christian community is considered a peace-living
community in Bangladesh,” he said.

In Myanmar, Cardinal Bo said, the church is “a small
but very visible community,” which has “an opportunity to be salt and
light to this nation.”

“We are in the forefront of interreligious initiatives
for peace,” he said, pointing out that Catholics organized the country’s
first interreligious peace conference.

“We have raised our voice for the protection of
democracy, we support democratic forces,” he said. “Democracy is in a
very early stage,
and it needs support.”

The core of Pope Francis’ message is likely to be similar to
the heart of his message in Sri Lanka in January 2015: “The inability to
reconcile differences and disagreements, whether old or new, has given rise to
ethnic and religious tensions, frequently accompanied by outbreaks of violence.”

Religions have a key role to play, he insisted. But that
means “all members of society must work together; all must have a voice.
All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and
their fears. Most importantly, they must be prepared to accept one another, to
respect legitimate diversities and learn to live as one family.”

– – –

Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article