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A cardinal’s view of Bangladesh: Teeming with vocations, helping the Rohingya

PAPIEŻ FRANCISZEK W BIRMIE
AP/EAST NEWS
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With Pope Francis' arrival today to the country, we take a fuller look at the Church here.

Pope Francis arrived in Bangladesh today, a country with 160 million inhabitants, most of whom are of the Muslim faith; a very small minority belong to the Catholic Church. Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, archbishop of Dacca since 2011, became the first cardinal of the country in October 2016. Speaking with I.MEDIA in collaboration with Churches of Asia, the prelate emphasized the enthusiasm of the country’s Catholics for the pope’s visit.

What does the Pope’s visit to Bangladesh mean to you?

Cardinal D’Rozario: For the country, this visit is an opportunity to celebrate the particular relationship that exists with the Vatican after the years 1971-72 [the Bangladeshi Liberation War that resulted in its separation from Pakistan]; diplomatic relations were officially established in February 1973. It’s a special relationship, based on common values: ethical, moral, and spiritual values. And this visit is also an opportunity to celebrate harmony between religions, which has strong foundations in our society, despite some disturbances.

This visit will also be a meeting between the Holy Father and the Bangladeshi people. They are a people of the periphery, far from Rome. A meeting with the Church of the poor, with a Church at the service of the poor. And, to the extent that it is an encounter, the voice of the people, carrying their difficulties, will be heard and understood.

What do the country’s Catholics expect from this visit?

The people, too, will come as pilgrims. To see the pope, to listen to him, to touch him. To pray together. To celebrate the Mass together, on the same ground. The people will come from all of Bangladesh, from the country’s eight dioceses, as pilgrims, to meet the pope. His visit to us is a testimony of his love for us. We are all amazed that he made the decision to visit us. People from all our dioceses are involved in the preparations. At the same time, we have been preparing spiritually, with specific prayers shared throughout the entire country, and with Mass intentions as well. We are responding in this way to Pope Francis’ prayer intention for November: to pray for the Church in Asia, so that Christians who are in the minority may foment dialogue, harmony, and understanding.

Ordinations to the priesthood are in the pope’s program for December 1. What is the situation of religious vocations in Bangladesh?

In 1986, Pope John Paul II ordained 18 deacons on the path to the priesthood; Pope Francis will ordain 16. This is cause enough to rejoice in the wonders of the Lord: we have vocations to priestly life, to religious life. We have also begun to send missionaries—between 20 and 30—to Africa, America, Canada, and Papua New Guinea. On November 13, I visited a family whose mother had died. Of her 10 children, three became priests, and three are nuns. Our people are religious. We currently have 120 students at the large national seminary in Dacca.

You went to the Rohingya refugee camp at the end of September. What is the situation there?

I went to the refugee camp last September 24 and 25, while the Rohingya were still arriving. I was happy to see that, despite all the problems, that there was a certain benevolence among the refugees within the camps. I have visited some families and listened to their stories, which were terrible. That day, a hundred children were born. I learned that 18,000 pregnant women were in these camps. In that region, the Church is not established, but we wanted to be present; we wanted to show our compassion. Caritas Bangladesh has, after a slight delay, been granted permission to work there. It is taking care of 40,000 families. We are very invested. Our tiny Church is helping during one of the greatest disasters of humanity.

Interview by Pierre Macqueron, Churches of Asia, for I.MEDIA

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