Though very different from Myanmar, here Francis will echo certain strains of the same message he gave during the first leg of his trip.
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Myanmar and Bangladesh are two very different countries: one is located in China’s sphere of influence—Myanmar—and the other—Bangladesh—is in that of India.
However, for Pope Francis, there is a connection between the two countries: his concern to save each of them from its tendency to close in upon itself.
The pope told Buddhists, the majority of Myanmar’s population, who are tempted by nationalism in the name of the purity of the Myanmar race: beware of isolationism! He has the same message in Bangladesh, where Islam is the state religion. There, in a similar way, the temptation to radical Islam is not far off. In recent years, the attitude towards intellectuals and Christians has hardened. Not to mention terrorist attacks, like that in Dhaka in July 2016, right in the middle of the diplomatic quarter.
During his meeting with religious leaders on Friday, the pope is expected to remind them, as he has done with political authorities, that there can be no violence in the name of God.
The current Rohingya refugee problem is a second connection between Myanmar and Bangladesh, although it is nothing but the consequence of this rise in ethnic and religious nationalism. On this point, the Holy See is bringing a bit of reason to the media world; while the fate of these Myanmar refugees living in camps in Bangladesh is clearly tragic, the solution is far from “easy,” as the bishops of Myanmar stated during their evaluation of the pope’s visit to their country. Today, the 900,000 Rohingyas can neither stay in Bangladesh, already overpopulated and poor, nor return to their country without paying the price of being persecuted anew.
Instead of focusing on whether or not to pronounce the term Rohingya, international opinion, the bishops continued, would benefit from “studying” a bit more the reality on the ground, and the long history of the conflict. This would help them to understand why the Holy See is more concerned with finding long-term solutions to strengthen the fragile democracy in Myanmar than with providing a facile, immediate answer to the legitimate emotions that arise in the face of the suffering of these refugees.
The third issue that joins the two countries is religious freedom. The Church teaches that particular cultures need to be saved by the Catholic faith—by its universality. But that presupposes a condition: that the political authorities allow the Church the possibility of practicing its faith and carrying out its works. Along these lines, the reputation of Catholic schools in these countries is well established, and they are a good remedy for the illiteracy that is still devastating these countries, especially Bangladesh.
Also, this Friday, December 1, the Pope will ordain 16 priests in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. There is no doubt that, as he did with Myanmar Catholics, he will entrust them with the task of healing the wounds of the nation through the cross of Christ. “The world turns, the cross remains,” say the Carthusians.