Yangon, August 28, 2017 by Joseph KZH
Today the Vatican and Myanmar Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCM) simultaneously confirmed rumors that have been swirling the past few weeks about a papal visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, announcing that Pope Francis will visit the two Asian countries Nov. 27-Dec. 2.
“Welcoming the invitation of the respective heads of state and bishops, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an apostolic visit to Myanmar from 27 to 30 November 2017, visiting the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw,” an Aug. 28 statement from Cardinal Charles Bo and CBCM read.
The communique also noted that after Myanmar, the Pope will head to Bangladesh “from 30 November to 2 December 2017, visiting the city of Dhaka.” The logo for the trip was also published, however, the schedule is expected to be released shortly.
The Pope has been talking about a visit to Asia for several months, however, until now nothing had been confirmed. Still, he managed to slip the visit in just before Christmas. It also falls just two months before a second tour of South America, which will take him to Peru and Chile in January 2018.
Though India was initially part of the plan for this year’s Asia trip, a visit to the country had to be cut due to complications with the country’s government. Despite hopes from all sides, it’s taken longer than anticipated to work out some of the details with the government of Prime Minister Narhendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist seen by many as hostile to India’s Christian minority.
Francis’ decision to visit Bangladesh and Myanmar, however, is not only a shining example of his attention to the peripheries, but it also speaks of the great attention he has placed on Asia since his election. His second trip as Pope was a visit to South Korea in August 2014, made in part to celebrate Asian Youth Day, and just five months later, in January 2015, he traveled to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The upcoming visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, then, will mark his third tour of Asia so far in his four-year tenure.
The Holy See and Myanmar officially established diplomatic ties in May, agreeing to send ambassadors to each others’ countries when the country’s de-facto civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, visited the Vatican. The move to officially establish diplomatic ties comes just two months after Myanmar’s parliament voted in March to make their country the 183rd nation to enjoy diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
Also serving as Myanmar’s Foreign Minister, Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese diplomat, politician and author who currently serves as the country’s State Counselor. Before her rise to power, she spent much of her career under house arrest due to her push for human rights and democracy, which contradicted the military rule at the time.
As far as the Catholic Church in Myanmar, the country has 16 Catholic dioceses and a total of 23 living bishops, both active and retired. In 2015 Pope Francis appointed Myanmar’s first-ever cardinal, giving a red hat to Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon.
Just this past year, in the November 19, 2016, consistory, the Pope made a similar gesture toward Bangladesh, naming Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka the first-ever cardinal for the Muslim-majority country.
Listed among the top ten most populated countries in the world, with roughly 163 million citizens, Bangladesh has a minority Catholic population of around 0.3 percent, while the majority of the population, about 90 percent, is Muslim.
In addition to Francis’ affinity for the global margins, another key element of the trip close to his heart is the plight of the persecuted Muslim Rohingya people, which he has spoken of often and is likely a key reason for his symbolic decision to travel to both Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The announcement of Pope’s visit is made today by Myanmar Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCM) in Yangon, chaired by His Excellency Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang, Bishop of Kalay diocese and President of CBCM and joined by Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, Auxiliary Bishop of Yangon Archdiocese and General Secretary of CBMC, Bishop John Hsane Hgyi, bishop of Pathein diocese. A detailed schedule of Papal program will be shortly announced by Vatican.