MUMBAI, India — Pope Francis’s visit to Bangladesh “was a celebration of our cultural identity, of harmony, of diversity, and peace,” according to the country’s first cardinal.
Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, Archbishop of Dhaka, was in neighboring India this week, on a family visit in Kolkata. During his stay, he spoke to Crux.
D’Rozario was created a cardinal by Francis on November 19, 2016.
“The expectations of the people – of everyone – was fulfilled: The Catholics, people of other denominations and other faiths, and of the government. All were actively involved in the preparation and participation, and God has done, providentially, much more than what we had planned.”
The pope visited Bangladesh from Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2017, following his Nov. 27-30 visit to Myanmar.
Besides sharing a border, 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.
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 is Hindu.
Among the events Francis attended during his visit to the country was an interfaith meeting, where he met with members of the Rohingya community.
“The Christians in particular were very, very happy,” the cardinal said.
“They got to see the pope close up at all of the four big events, and so many could – unexpectedly – touch the pope, and this for them was a blessing and grace-filled moment.”
D’Rozario said the pope came to the country not only as a head of state and the head of the Catholic Church, but also as a “visible presence” of Jesus Christ.
“The pope brought an active presence of Jesus Christ, through his presence, through his love, compassion and openness to everyone, his encompassing attitude to culture and religions. It touched a deep cord in everyone in Bangladesh,” the cardinal told Crux.
He mentioned the fact that people from all over the country traveled to the capital for a chance to see the pope, and that the population will “cherish the happy memories of spontaneous joy.”
D’Rozario joined around 500 other Christian leaders at a Christmas party hosted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina organized by the Bangladesh Christian Association.
During the Christmas celebration, the prime minister said everyone in Bangladesh was happy to see the pope visit the country, and noted that Bangladesh allows all people to practice their religious faith and celebrate their religious holidays publicly.
The prime minister, a Muslim, even joined in the singing of Christmas carols with the other attendees.
“The government was very pleased with the pope’s visit. The president and the prime minister said that it was a big honor for Bangladesh to have the pope. The Bangladesh government contributed whole-heartedly to the visit, and deserved mention and acknowledgement,” D’Rozario told Crux.
During his conversation with Crux, the cardinal also spoke about his visit to Kolkata.
His 94-year-old brother and 78-year-old sister live in the Indian city, and he also officiated at the wedding of his grandniece.
“In India, there is a oneness of faith for everyone. People have a natural reverence for faith, they are enthusiastic about faith and an inner longing to be united with the Universal Church,” D’Rozario said.
Kolkata is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal, which together with Bangladesh formed the province of Bengal in British India. Like the country as a whole, the province was partitioned at independence in 1947, along religious lines.
However, Bangladesh and West Bengal still share a common Bengali language and culture.
On the first day of his visit, D’Rozario was able to celebrate the Mass for the Feast of Epiphany.
“The Church was overflowing with happy people. Their active participation in the Eucharist, the beautiful liturgies, and their openness and joy to receive a Bengali Cardinal was immense….it is a personal joy, that a Bengali is honored as a cardinal,” he told Crux.
“The people of Bengal have a loyalty, a faithfulness and a desire to be united with the Universal Church,” the cardinal said.
“I told the people that the visit of the Holy Father to Bangladesh was a manifestation of God – God revealed himself to the shepherds, Herod, the scientists, the wise men: The simple and the wise,” he said.
“In my homily on the Feast of the Epiphany in Kolkata, I shared how God still reveals himself through the Holy Faith, to all nations and peoples as he did in Bangladesh, when the pope came to Bangladesh. Through the Holy Father’s actions, attitudes, and words – the Holy Father engaged in a dialogue with culture, the Poor – including the Rohingya – and people of other faiths,” the cardinal said.
“God is all the time revealing Himself to us, in the actual context of our lives.”