Pope Francis shakes hands with the faithful during his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square on Nov. 15 in the Vatican. (Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP)
While the ongoing crisis of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh will draw much attention during Pope Francis' visit to the two countries in late November, the pope is also expected to focus on interreligious dialogue, poverty and climate change.
"He will be insisting on economic justice and environmental justice," said Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar. Justice in both areas would be "the major promoters of peace and harmony" in the region.
Although to different degrees, the two countries the pope will visit are struggling to establish a democracy that respects the rights of minorities — both religious and ethnic. Differences are exacerbated by poverty and the difficulty of accessing very limited resources; the situation is further worsened by climate change, which is evident in the droughts, flooding and increased power and frequency of cyclones.
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar Nov. 27 and stay until the afternoon of Nov. 30 when he flies to Bangladesh. He returns to Rome late Dec. 2.
Both countries have been plagued by political and ethnic tensions that have found religion to be an easy difference to exploit for political gain.
"We are a very small minority Christian community in Bangladesh," Bishop Paul Ponen Kubi of Mymensingh said, but all the people want "to live together in harmony and peace, though they are of many religions and cultures. I believe that Holy Father Pope Francis will emphasize this."
Cardinal Bo said that he expects interreligious initiatives for peace to be a major theme of the pope's talks in Myanmar where, like in other countries, religions can "become the tools for extremism. The pope's presence and his dialogue with various stakeholders would affirm the reconciling role of religions in this country."
Source: Catholic News Service