In an historic mass to some 150,000 worshipers in Yangon, Myanmar, Pope Francis on Nov 29 urged the country’s Catholics to respond to hatred and rejection with “forgiveness and compassion.”
The pontiff’s first visit to the staunchly Buddhist southeast Asian country, and the first ever by a sitting Pope, comes amid allegations of ethnic cleansing of the minority Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State.
In his sermon, the Pope said: “I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible…We think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.”
Squinting in the sun, crowds of Burmese worshipers waved Vatican and national flags while Francis passed them in the Popemobile, as he made his way to the temporary altar at the Kyaikkasan Sports Ground in Yangon.
“Many of you have come from far and remote mountainous areas, some even on foot,” he spoke in Italian to the crowd. “I have come as a fellow pilgrim to listen and to learn from you, as well as to offer you some words of hope and consolation.”
Dressed in pink, Daw Hseng said she left her home in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, around 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from Yangon, nearly a week ago to make it to the Mass in time.
“We slept on the road,” she told CNN. “The train just went direct, we didn’t stop. We rode the whole night.”
Asked about the violence currently endured by the Rohingya Muslims amid ongoing fighting between Muslim militants and Myanmar’s military, she said: “Of course I hope for peace.”
“I want things to become peaceful because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to live and find work and eat. It’s very difficult,” she said.
Pope Francis will travel to Bangladesh on Thursday, where he’s expected to meet at least a small group of Rohingya refugees while in the capital Dhaka. The last pope to visit Bangladesh was Pope John Paul II in 1986.