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Pope Francis' visit to Bangladesh sparks joy, enthusiasm

The visit would have a revolutionary impact on the faith of local Catholics and raise the profile of the church

Pope Francis' visit to Bangladesh sparks joy, enthusiasm

Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka (center) speaks to media Aug. 28 to announce the visit of Pope Francis to Bangladesh on Nov. 30-Dec. 2. (ucanews.com photo)

People in Bangladesh across different faiths have expressed joy over Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the Muslim-majority nation in late November.

Pope Francis will also visit neighboring Myanmar.

"Welcoming the invitation of the respective heads of state and bishops, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Visit to Myanmar from Nov. 27-30, visiting the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, and to Bangladesh from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, visiting the city of Dhaka," a Vatican statement said.

Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka, briefed media on the visit in the presence of the Vatican nuncio to Bangladesh Archbishop George Kocherry.

The motto for the visit of "Harmony and Peace" was unveiled and a new website (www.popebd.info) launched.

The official logo includes a dove or "peace bird" and shapla (water lily), the national flower.

The bird symbolizes Pope Francis, who comes as "the ambassador of Harmony and Peace to this land and his free spirit," the Vatican statement said.

Cardinal D'Rozario described the visit of the pontiff as "a pilgrimage" to the heart of the people of Bangladesh.

"Bangladesh as a nation and the tiny local church is elated and grateful," he said.

"We would like to extend to Pope Francis our heartfelt gratitude for expressing his deep love for us, for honoring us and bestowing us priority."

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Sunil Pereira, 70, a Catholic media worker, described the forthcoming trip as an encouraging step for the church, especially for young Catholics.

The pope's presence would have a revolutionary impact on the faith of local Catholics, as well as other Christians, and raise the profile of the church.

William Proloy Samaddar, vice-president of the Bangladesh Baptist church, said the pope's arrival would be an honor to the people of the country.

He hoped Pope Francis would foster harmony among communities and narrow divisions of all kinds.

Maolana Iqbal Yusuf, secretary of the Sufism Research and Human Welfare Center in Dhaka, thanked Pope Francis for choosing to come to Bangladesh.

"As a Muslim cleric, I heartily welcome Pope Francis to Bangladesh, because his efforts in peace-building and the spreading of love across the world is outstanding," he said.

Subrato Chowdhury, a Hindu leader, also extended a welcome.

"Despite being a Muslim-majority country, Bangladesh is a land of tolerance and harmony, and this is what I think prompted Pope Francis to choose the country to visit," he said.

"I believe his visit will not only boost the Christian community, but further strengthen interfaith harmony." 

Bangladesh is the world's fourth most populous Muslim nation.

About 90 percent of the 160 million population are Muslims, about 8 percent Hindu and the rest adherents of Buddhism, Christianity and other religions. There are about 600,000 Christians with a majority, 350,000, being Catholics.

Despite political instability and a rise in Islamic militancy, Bangladesh has been considered a bastion of tolerance and religious harmony going back to the nation's war of independence against Islamic Pakistan in 1971.

The Vatican was among the first states to recognize Bangladesh's independence.

Following a devastating cyclone, Pope Paul VI briefly visited the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) on Nov. 26, 1970 to express sympathy for victims on his way to Manila in the Philippines. St. Pope John Paul II visited the country on Nov. 19, 1986.


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