Pope Francis reads a congratulatory message to the people of Bangladesh during the golden jubilee of the country’s independence. (Photo: YouTube/Vatican News)
A national program in Bangladesh marking two historical events featured a message from Pope Francis that stressed the Muslim-majority nation’s secular ethos and cordial links with the Vatican.
The video message from Pope Francis was played during the national program in the capital Dhaka on March 24, commemorating two historic events — the birth centenary of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the 50th anniversary of its independence from Pakistan.
The program in Dhaka’s National Parade Ground was part of a 10-day nationwide celebration from March 17-26, marking the culmination of Mujib Borsho (Year of Mujibur) and the national golden jubilee.
Pope Francis praised Bangladesh’s unique natural beauty and efforts in religious and ethnic pluralism at the function where Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering was the chief guest.
Heads of states from neighboring countries – India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan — are each chief guests at programs in the final five days. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the valedictory meeting on March 26.
Pope Francis described Bangladesh as “a modern nation that strives to join unity of language and culture with respect for the different traditions and communities within it. This is one of the legacies which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman left behind for all Bangladeshis.”
The pontiff said Mujibur Rahman promoted “a culture of encounter and dialogue, marked by wisdom, insight and breadth of vision. He knew that it is only in such a pluralistic and inclusive society … that a more just and fraternal world can be built.”
Bangladesh “has always had a special place in the heart of the Popes, who from the start have expressed solidarity with its people, sought to accompany them in overcoming initial adversities, and supported them in the demanding task of nation-building and development,” the message said.
The pope also recalled his visit to Bangladesh in 2017 and expressed hope that the “good relations between the Holy See and Bangladesh will continue to flourish.”
“So too, I trust that the growing climate of interreligious encounter and dialogue, which I witnessed during my visit, will continue to enable believers to express freely their deepest convictions about the meaning and purpose of life, and thus contribute to promoting the spiritual values that are the sure basis for a peaceful and just society,” said the message.
The pope also encouraged the people of Bangladesh, particularly the youth, to work for peace and “continue in your work of generosity and humanitarian outreach to the refugees, the poor, the underprivileged and those who have no voice.”
Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 through a nine-month bloody war that saw some three million killed, between 200,000 and 300,000 women raped, and about 10 million made refugees to India by the invading military and their local collaborators.
Rahman, the country’s founding leader and father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was assassinated on Aug. 15, 1975, with most of his family members.
During his visit to Bangladesh on Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2017, Pope Francis visited the country’s national martyrs’ memorial near Dhaka and the former residence-turned-museum of Rahman in Dhaka.