Pope arrives in Bangladesh, praises country's welcome of Rohingya

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) — The government and people of Bangladesh have shown
exemplary generosity in welcoming hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees
from Myanmar, despite great demands placed on
already limited resources, Pope Francis said.

Arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar Nov. 30, Pope Francis
wasted no time in mentioning the plight of the refugees who have been a source
of concern for him for more than two years.

While he spoke diplomatically in Myanmar about the obligation
to protect the rights of all people and ethnic groups, he was more
specific in Bangladesh, referring to the “massive influx of refugees from
Rakhine state” in Myanmar. He did not, however, use the word
“Rohingya,” which is how the refugees identify themselves.

Providing shelter and basic necessities to the refugees
“has been done at no little sacrifice,” the pope said.

The eyes of the world have watched Bangladesh take the
refugees in, he said, but clearly the situation is still dire. 

“None of us
can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human
suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our
brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the
refugee camps,” he said.

Pope Francis publicly pleaded with the international
community to assist Bangladesh in meeting the refugees’ emergency needs, but
also in helping to resolve the crisis in Myanmar that led them to flee.

As he did in Myanmar, the first stage of his trip, the pope
also spoke in Bangladesh about interreligious dialogue, religious freedom and
consolidating peaceful coexistence among members of different religious

From the Dhaka international airport, Pope Francis went
directly to the National Martyrs’ Memorial, which honors those who died in the 1971
war in which Bangladesh separated from Pakistan. In the memorial’s guestbook,
Pope Francis wrote: “Recalling all those who gave their lives as the
nation came to birth, may the people of Bangladesh work truly for justice and
the common good.”

In the book, under the heading “name,” he wrote
“Francis.” Under “designation,” he wrote, “Roman
Catholic bishop.”

He held a private meeting with Bangladeshi President Abdul
Hamid, then addressed the president, government officials, diplomats and
leaders of Bangladeshi society.

Welcoming the pope, Hamid told the pope his government had
sheltered 1 million Rohingya. Unfortunately, he said, “thousands of them,
including women and children, were brutally killed, thousands of women were
violated. They saw their homes burned into ashes.”

The president, too, spoke of interreligious dialogue and
harmony among all groups in the nation where the majority of people are Muslim.

“We know that no religion is immune from forms of
individual delusion or ideological extremism,” he told the pope, but his
government is working to “eradicate the root causes of terrorism and
violent extremism.”

Hamid told the pope that Bangladeshis have a tradition of
coexistence and believe “religion is personal, but its festivals are
universal” and something neighbors of different faiths celebrate with each

“In a world where religion is often — scandalously —
misused to foment division, such a witness to its reconciling and unifying
power is all the more necessary,” the pope told him.

“Only through sincere dialogue and respect for
legitimate diversity can a people reconcile divisions, overcome unilateral
perspectives and recognize the validity of differing viewpoints,” Pope
Francis said. “Because true dialogue looks to the future, it builds unity
in the service of the common good and is concerned for the needs of all
citizens, especially the poor, the underprivileged and those who have no voice.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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