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Tiny Christian communities in Myanmar, Bangladesh are hope for future, says pope

Massimo Valicchia/NurPhoto | AFP
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Describes them as "a special gift from the Virgin Mary."

During today’s general audience, Pope Francis dedicated his address to his apostolic trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, as is traditional following a pastoral trip. In those countries, where the Catholic Church represents a small minority of the population, he found a “living and fervent” Catholic community, “leaven of the Kingdom of God,” Francis said.

This first general audience of the month of December and of the new liturgical year was held in Paul VI Hall because of the cold. Going down the central aisle to reach the stage, Pope Francis spent a long time greeting groups of pilgrims, especially children, the elderly, and religious. Among those present were some Catholics from Bangladesh. The pope spontaneously turned to them, seeming particularly happy to see people from this country he just visited from November 30 to December 2.

Interrupting his cycle of catechesis on the Eucharist, the pontiff dedicated his address to the two-part trip (he visited Myanmar from November 26 to 30). While Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist and Bangladesh is mostly Muslim, Catholics are “a small flock, leaven of the Kingdom of God,” said Pope Francis.

They are “lively and fervent” communities, as shown by the 16 priestly ordinations he celebrated in Dhaka on December 1. The young people of these countries are a sign of hope, “a special gift from the Virgin Mary.” For the Successor of Peter, this youth is the “future” of Asia, a future “which sows fraternity.”

During this trip, Pope Francis also met the authorities of these two countries. In Myanmar, he was able to express the “closeness” of Christ to this people committed to “a new situation of freedom and peace.” Speaking to the political authorities, the pope insisted on “peace-making efforts” by including “all the different components of the nation, without exception.”

This is an allusion to the Rohingya Muslims, who are being forced to flee the country in the face of persecution by the army. If he did not mention the name of this ethnic group when speaking of Myanmar, the Supreme Pontiff did so when dealing with the subject of Bangladesh. This already overcrowded country “is committed to rescuing Rohingya refugees,” said the pontiff, expressing his “solidarity.”

Saint Nicholas

During his greeting to French-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis particularly noted the presence of a delegation from Lorraine. Since 1477, this region has been under the patronage of St. Nicholas, who is celebrated today, as the pope noted. In addition to this group, the pontiff greeted representatives of Catholic Scouting. Addressing the Poles, he thanked the country for donating the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. The tree, which is about 92 feet tall, comes from the region of the Diocese of Elk and will be lit tomorrow.

To the Arabic-speaking pilgrims, the Argentine pope said that he had asked the Rohingya people in Bangladesh to “forgive us” for the silence of the international community. It is necessary to rescue “all the oppressed and persecuted groups in the world,” he emphasized. In addition, Pope Francis mentioned in his final greetings a group of Syrian and Iraqi refugees welcomed into Italy.

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