1986-11-26 00:00:00

Pope John Paul II has called upon people of different races, languages and religions to join together "as members of the same human family, in adoring the most merciful God."

The pope sounded this call Nov. 19 during his two-day visit to Bangladesh, according to a special report published Nov. 28 in ASIA FOCUS, A UCA News publication.

Speaking before about 50,000 people, including about 3,000 non-Catholics, at Ershad national stadium in Dhaka, the pope emphasized that Catholics should have more dialogue with Muslims.

"You must show your Muslim brethren and the followers of the other religious traditions that your Christian faith, far from weakening your sense of pride in your homeland and your love for her, helps you to prize and respect the culture and heritage of Bangladesh."

The pope also reminded the people that society cannot forget its "very strict obligations" to the poor and expressed the hope that the Bangladeshi people "will not rest until the values of justice, mercy and love prevail."

"Communion and brotherhood" was the theme of his two-day visit to Bangladesh, a country of 100 million people, 60 percent of them subsistence farmers on the delta formed by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.

The pope described himself "as a religious pilgrim (who comes) in a spirit of fraternal love and esteem for all," stressing that his visit "has above all a religious significance.

The pope came direct to the stadium from the airport where he had been met by President Hossain Mohammad Ershad, members of the cabinet, foreign diplomats and Bangladeshi bishops and Christian leaders.

-- In the afternoon, the pope visited Savar, 32 km northwest of Dhaka, where he placed a ceremonial wreath at the national martyrs´ memorial. The memorial honors the persons killed in the 1971 war of liberation.

Breaking protocol, he knelt before the altar and prayed for the martyrs.

In the visitors´ book, he wrote: "Animae justorum sunt in manu Dei" (The souls of the just are in the hands of God).

-- Later, the pope spoke at the reception held in his honor by the small Catholic community -- about one-third of I percent of the population is Catholic.

"You are a little flock and many of you are poor," he said. "You struggle with the natural limitations and man-made difficulties of your existence in this land.

"You know that in spite of these circumstances the Lord calls you to lives of holiness and peace."

The country´s four bishops recently defined the bridging of the gap between rich and poor as their first pastoral priority. Per capita income is less than US$150 a year and about 80 percent of the people are undernourished.

-- Apart from press statements from a few Islamic organizations, there was no direct opposition to the papal visit. These statements tended to criticize the government for welcoming the pope.

The common people were very much impressed at the pope´s visit, especially his act of kissing the soil on his arrival, an observer said.

Some Muslims, he continued, compared this act of humility with the actions of their own leaders. One Muslim said, "We walk on the soil, but we never kiss the ground."


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