New Delhi: India’s miss could be Myanmar’s gain.
A report from the Vatican indicates that Pope Francis could visit Myanmar and Bangladesh in late November.
“Pope Francis could visit Myanmar and Bangladesh in November, deciding to add the Muslim majority country after his original plan of visiting India and Bangladesh, as he’d told reporters last year, fell through,” Crux, a website with “Taking the Catholic Pulse” as tagline, reported on July 28.
Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Bhaka in Bangladesh told Crux that the dates for the pope’s visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar will be Nov. 23 to Dec. 8, although he was cautious about confirming Myanmar as the second destination for the pope’s Asia swing.
D’Rozario said that he would quote Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar, another first-ever cardinal named by Francis, who said, “We have invited the Holy Father to Myanmar, we hope the Holy Father comes soon.”
However, he did say that working out the protocol for the visit is complicated because “there are two countries involved.”
The change in the earlier plan was necessitated as little progress was made in the papal visit to India this year.
Church circles in India are tight-lipped about the papal visit in view of the fast changing political situation in the country.
An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) had told an Indian newspaper that he still cherished the hope that Pope Francis would visit India late this year or early next year.
However, other sources in the Church rule out such a possibility because the time is too short to arrange a papal visit.
The possible change in schedule was first reported by Argentina’s news agency Telam, and confirmed by Crux through several sources on the ground, who requested to remain anonymous because they didn’t have clearance from their superiors to speak about the matter.
In June, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai had said the pope’s intention to visit India might have to be postponed because it was taking longer than anticipated to work out details with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a strong Hindu nationalist who’s at times been seen as hostile to the country’s small Christian minority.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, upholding a Vatican tradition of not confirming papal trips until they’re announced, only acknowledged that a trip to Asia by the end of the year is “being studied,” without mentioning dates or places, crux.com reported.
Pope Francis’ public calendar shows he’s cancelled the weekly general audience for Wednesday, Nov. 29. Considering the 12 plus hours for a Rome-Dhaka flight, there are no other windows of time unless the pope cancelled one of the already-scheduled audiences or Sunday Angelus prayers.
Both Asian countries have very small Christian communities, but both have been close to Francis’s attention, who created first-ever cardinals for both countries: Cardinal Charles Bo in Myanmar’s and Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario in Bangladesh.
The two countries also have a minority population that is close to Francis’ heart: the persecuted Rohingya Muslims, who’ve been migrating from Myanmar to Bangladesh for years, and the tiny Catholic minority in Bangladesh.
Open Doors USA, an organization that track Christian persecution world-wide, has labeled the persecution level in Bangladesh to be “very high,” despite the fact that the constitution includes religious freedom. They suggest that the situation is direr in rural areas. In the case of Myanmar, Christians are also victims of violence, but the Rihingya Muslims face a much more real threat.
Bangladesh, in the top-ten of most populated countries with 163 million citizens, has a Catholic population of 0.3 percent, according to the Catholic Almanac. The majority of the population, some 90 percent, is Muslim.
During the plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Sri Lanka, Cardinal D’Rozario told Matters India on December 3, 2016, that his elevation was Pope Francis’ way of recognizing a Church on the periphery.
“This new status has humbled me because I know that I am not worthy to receive it,” the 73-year-old prelate said.
The cardinal also said cardinalship for him is “recognition by the Holy Father for the people of Bangladesh and Asia.”
One of the new cardinal’s tasks is to receive Pope Francis in Bangladesh. He said the pope had told him that he would come to Bangladesh.
The new cardinal commended Pope Francis’ love for Anawin by recognizing those living on the periphery.
Anawim is a Hebrew word from the Old Testament which describes the “poor ones” who remained faithful to God in times of difficulty.