MUMBAI, India – Bangladesh’s cardinal said Pope Francis will confirm the faith of the country’s small Catholic population.
Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, the Archbishop of Dhaka, spoke to Crux in response to the video-message released on Tuesday by the pope to the people of Bangladesh ahead of his Nov. 30- Dec. 2 visit to the South Asian country.
In his message, the pope said he would travel to Bangladesh to proclaim the Gospel message of “reconciliation, forgiveness and peace,” and he said he was especially looking forward to a meeting with the nation’s religious leaders.
“We are living at a time when religious believers and people of good will everywhere are called to foster mutual understanding and respect and to support each other as members of our one human family,” Francis said.
“Bangladesh was very happy to welcome this message of the Holy Father’s greetings and friendship,” D’Rozario said.
“In Bangladesh, where we live, as a minority, we witness to the Gospel through our way of life and our services for all, without discrimination and also through our cooperation together with others for the common good of all,” the cardinal said.
“The Church is in continuous dialogue of actions, and dialogue of peace and festivals which is our expression of harmony. Dialogue is a very important way of communicating the universal values of humanity,” he said.
There are only about 350,000 Catholics in Bangladesh, about 0.2 percent of the total population. The country is over 86 percent Muslim, while another 12 percent are Hindu.
The Catholic bishops’ conference in the country has set up ten multi-faith subcommittees to help greet the pope, which includes Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists – as well as other Christian denominations.
The theme of the papal visit to Bangladesh is “Harmony and Peace.”
“The pope is singling out and highlighting the religious harmony – dialogue and harmony – in his visit. I consider the pope’s visit a festival of dialogue, a witness of religious harmony, a celebration of harmony of Bangladesh’s culture,” the cardinal said.
A sign of this harmony is the ‘Home of Compassion’ established by St. Teresa of Kolkata in Dhaka, which is still under the care of the Missionaries of Charity. The pope will visit the facility on Dec. 2.
Currently, there are more than 140 residents, including abandoned children, the handicapped, and those who are sick.
D’Rozario visited the facility last month, and told Crux it “is a big witness in Dhaka city.
“The Holy Father will spend around 15 minutes with the people of the home. It is significant as the Holy Father would like to see, where they live and meet with them in their situations and the simplicity of their lives and to be in solidarity with the sick and the poorest of the poor,” the cardinal said.
The pope’s visit to Bangladesh is part of a two-nation trip to the region. He will first visit Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh, from Nov. 27-30.
The two countries are also intertwined with the ongoing Rohingya crisis. Over 500,000 of Myanmar’s Muslim minority have fled to Bangladesh since August, creating a dire humanitarian situation.
On Wednesday, the United States joined the United Nations to accuse Myanmar of acts of “ethnic cleansing.”
Caritas Bangladesh – the aid arm of the Church – is doing what it can to help the refugees.
Although currently most concerned with providing food, cooking utensils, and other essentials, Caritas is making plans with the government to help provide permanent housing structures as well as medical and educational facilities.
The pope has been an advocate for the Rohingya, mentioning them most recently on Oct. 23, during his daily Mass in the Casa Sanctae Marthae, when he spoke about people who are “hungry for money, land and wealth” creating an “idolatry that kills.”
“We only think of one case: 200,000 Rohingya children in refugee camps,” the pope said. “There are 800,000 people there, 200,000 of whom are children.”
Francis also made an appeal for them during his Angelus on August 27, when he urged for them to be given “full rights.”
On Wednesday, the Vatican confirmed that Francis would meet with Rohingya Muslims during an interreligious meeting in Dhaka on Dec. 1.