ROME — Pope Francis met Wednesday morning with the families of nine of the victims of a terrorist attack which took place in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, last summer.
The attack was carried out July 1, 2016 during a hostage scenario in the Hotel Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka. Twenty-eight people died in the attack – including six gunmen and two police officers.
Most of the 20 hostages killed in the attack were foreigners from Italy and Japan, with one from India and one from the U.S. Although the attack was staged by radical Islamist militants, authorities said the gunmen had no ties to the Islamic State, the BBC reports.
Pope Francis met February 22 with 36 family members of the nine Italian victims of the attack. During the visit he embraced and comforted the families, Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reports.
“It’s easy to take the road from love that leads to hatred, while it is difficult to do the opposite: from bitterness and hatred to go towards love,” he said.
“You are left in anger, bitterness and desire for revenge, but you have embarked, with the pain inside, on the path of love to build and help the people of Bangladesh, especially young people so that they can study: this is to sow peace and I thank you, for me it is an example.”
The bishop of Alife-Caiazzo, Valentino Di Cerbo, was also present at the meeting and presented profiles on the lives of the nine victims to the Pope. During the visit, Francis was also presented with nine olive tree seedlings with the names of the victims written on pictures of doves attached.
Those present also shared about special projects they are working on following the tragedy as a way to honor their loved ones: one brother of a victim is leaving soon to volunteer in Dhaka with Aid to the Church in Need and another family has helped to build a church in a small town in the south of Bangladesh.
Another project provides study grants for young people in Bangladesh.
One day after the attack, the pope sent a letter expressing his heartfelt condolence and condemning the “barbarous” act as an offense “against God and humanity.”
Signed on behalf of the Pope by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the letter said that in commending the dead to God’s mercy, “His Holiness gives the assurance of his prayers for the grieving families and the wounded.”
As he often does following violent attacks or deadly natural disasters, Pope Francis also remembered the victims during his Sunday Angelus July 3, praying for the conversion of persons “blinded by hate” who commit such acts of violence.
“I express my closeness to the families of the victims and the wounded in yesterday’s attack in Dhaka,” he said after the Angelus, also leading the crowds in praying the Hail Mary.
It is believed that Pope Francis may make a trip to Bangladesh sometime in 2017, although no dates have been announced.
Newly installed Cardinal and Archbishop of Dhaka, Patrick D’Rozario, the first prelate from Bangladesh to receive a red hat, told journalists in November that if the Pope comes, it will likely be near the end of 2017, after the country’s monsoon season.
Pope Francis’s visit to Bangladesh will be “a great event for the whole Church in the country, especially for interreligious harmony, the rights of government workers and for climate change,” Cardinal D’Rozario said.
“He’s a kind of ‘spiritual guru,’ the Holy Father,” the cardinal said, predicting the visit will “boost-up the spirituality, the communion of all the people.”
It is possible the pope’s visit with the families of victims February 22 means he will not be visiting the country after all. However, if he does go, it is a strong sign of Francis’s connection to the reality the country faces.
Islam is the major religion in Bangladesh by far. As of 2013, some 89 percent of the population was Muslim, with only around 10 percent Hindu, and Christians and Buddhists making up less than 1 percent of the population.