Today 30th November, Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, is coming to Bangladesh as a pilgrim of peace and harmony. He is coming to meet the Christian community (Catholics and other Christians) and to meet all the people who want to see him. He is a world religious leader, very famous, very loved and respected among the world leaders. In the Catholic Church there are more than one billion and three hundred million persons all over the world.
The Bangladesh Government and the Bishops of the Catholic Church invited him to come and he will spend two days among us.
In his record, he has some significant decisions he took as Pope. In September 2013, when the President of the United States, Barack Obama, was going to occupy the Syria militarily, he raised his voice against the war. First of all he wrote a letter to the world leaders who were in a meeting in Moscow (G-7 meeting), asking them to solve the conflict in Syria without bloodshed but with diplomatic and peaceful decisions.
He involved the people and to get the support from them, he organized a four-hour vigil prayer at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. He asked people to come to pray together and to ask the Almighty to help us to implement the peace and to avert the bloodshed in Syria.
He asked the believers all over the world to join in, praying according to their religion. The large St. Peter's Square was full packed of that evening, also many Muslims and Hindu attended it. All over the world, the Christians attended the prayer meetings in the Churches of their towns and villages. Above all in North Africa countries, many people Christians and Muslims alike, had the prayer meetings for that purpose.
Following this prayer-vigil, the American Congress did not have the courage to approve the militarily intervention. For the Pope, it was a success; he elected Pope just six months before, he became really the leader of the world. His courage and determination won the support of the people and above all of youth beyond their nationalities, religions, and races. On that occasion all of us we discovered the strength and the importance of the prayer (dowa mahfil). All of us, together with the Pope, won the game.
As Pope, a spiritual leader, he has provided for all the people who in Rome, in the nights, sleep on the roads, under the bridges, on the side-paths, somewhere and somehow, some houses where they can have a bed, food and shower and take rest. Many of them live this kind of life, because either of mental disease and depression, or they took this decision as something of important in their life went wrong. Others because were abandoned by their relatives, children and they do not have a place where to stay.
The Pope has groups of youth and people who, during the nights all year long, go on the streets, under the bridges, in abandoned houses and give them food, ask them about their lives; in winter time they give blankets. He is very much interested and faithful to this activity by keeping himself up-to-date, as he personally gives support for that. Somebody says that in deep nights he himself goes with the youth on the streets of Rome to serve the poor.
In the Catholic tradition, when a person becomes bishop, he chooses a motto where he proclaims his belief, the program and the point of view he will keep during this ministry. Our Pope when he became bishop he chose the following motto "Jesus saw the tax collector and because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him he said to him Follow me".
This motto is about the call of Jesus of one his apostle Matthew. The Pope sees in this attitude of mercy and the choice had by Jesus in his ministry, the program for his own ministry. The Pope tries very much to meet people personally, listening joys and difficulties in their lives giving them time to listen to them, gives some counsels and promising he will pray for them.
The journey to Dhaka Bangladesh
As Pope, he is the head of the state of Vatican City, a very small state, three hundred and thirty bigha (one hundred and ten acre) land where he carries on his ministry in the Church and in the world. For this reason when he comes, he will follow the protocol of the head of State, he will go to Savar National Martyrs Memorial Monument to give his respect to the martyrs of Bangladesh, meets the President of the Republic of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister and other institutional authorities and then the people in another one day and half.
On Friday 1st December he will celebrate our Catholic most important celebration (Holy Mass) where he will ordain new sixteen priests; in the afternoon he will meet Bangladesh people among them there will be Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists; on Saturday he will visit privately Sishu Bhobon the house of the sick people and the poor run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa, he will meet the priests, brothers, nuns and the youth who want to become priest (seminarians) who are in Bangladesh and in the afternoon he will meet the Bangladeshi youth. Then he will leave for Vatican City.
In January 2015, The Pope went to Sri Lanka for the pastoral visit. In the journey schedule, there was a prayer at the sanctuary of Madhu. The Pope himself narrates the experience "Yesterday, at Madhu I saw something which I could never have expected: not everyone there was Catholic, not even the majority! There were Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and each one came to pray; they go and they say they receive grace there.
They sense that there is something there that unites them. And if they are so naturally united in going together to pray at shrine, which is Christian but not only Christian, all want to go there, then why shouldn't I go to a Buddhist temple to greet them?
(Out of schedule, he went to meet the head of a Buddhist pagoda in Colombo, as the head of that temple who had gone to receive His Holiness at the airport, invited him to visit him at the pagoda. As the Archbishop of Colombo was a friend of the monk, the Pope and the archbishop went there.
As it was out of schedule of the visit, a journalist asked him why he went)."What happened at Madhu, goes on the Pope, is very important. It helps us to understand the meaning of the inter-religious experience in Sri Lanka: there is respect for one another. There are some fundamentalist groups but these are not with the people." (Interview on board in flight 15.1.2015 quotation from Radio Vaticana).
Personally I am very anxious to meet him and to hear his word which is very much appropriate and hopeful for the listeners. With me there are many people who are looking forward to seeing him. Welcome to Bangladesh Pope Francis !!!
The writer is Director of Inter-religious Dialogue Center, Khulna
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