Pope Francis enabled a spiritual renewal among Christians and enhanced respect between religions when he visited
our nation late last year. The most significant event was a mass interfaith gathering held on Dec. 1. Pope Francis prayed with Rohingya refugees and other Muslims as well as Hindus and Buddhists. Memories of that day will long be treasured. Ordinary folk of different faiths realized that Pope Francis is an advocate of peace and harmony
, not only for Catholics but for them as well. Also to be counted as a blessing was the development of a better understanding, and therefore scope for collaboration, between the government and the Christian community. Christians are a small minority in Bangladesh, but their contribution is huge and the papal presence drew attention to this in a profound way.
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Christians provide, for example, extensive services in the education and health sectors through some 1,000 schools and about 100 health centers. Bangladesh's political leaders during the pope's visit lauded this role. We are at the periphery of the Catholic Church in terms of numbers compared to large Christian communities elsewhere in the world. But the fact that Bangladesh was the first Muslim-majority nation to be visited by Pope Francis was important given that past popes seldom traveled to Islamic countries. Pope Francis previously visited Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka and immediately before coming to Bangladesh spent several days in largely Buddhist Myanmar where the Rohinghya issue predominated. Asia is the birthplace of diverse religious traditions
and the pope is trying to gain insights into how minority-Christians have been able to live in relative harmony with non-Christian majorities. On returning to the Vatican from Bangladesh, Pope Francis continued to highlight various aspects of his time here, having been impressed by both the culture and the welcome he received from the public and government. He also appreciated the largely positive media coverage, something that bodes well for the future. While Bangladesh is overwhelmingly Muslim, the Christian community is expanding. Benedict Alo D'Rozario was secretary of the central committee for the 2017 papal visit to Bangladesh. He is a former executive director of Caritas Bangladesh.