Bangladesh’s prominent Catholic Church leader regards the apostolic visit of Pope Francis to the country as a “pilgrimage to the soul of Bangladesh”. At the same time it is also the pilgrimage of the people to their guest, Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, Archbishop of Dhaka, explained to Vatican Radio in an interview ahead of the Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 papal trip, after the Pontiff visits neighbouring Myanmar, Nov 27 to 30.
With over 86% of its estimated 156 million population (2016) adhering to Islam, Bangladesh is home to the world’s 4th largest Muslim populationafter Indonesia, Pakistan and India. Around 10% of the people are Hindus, and Christians and Buddhists make up less than 1 percent each of the population. As of 2016, there are some 350,000 Catholics, or approximately 0.2 percent of the population.
To know more about this visit of Pope Francis to the overwhelmingly Muslim nation, we called Cardinal D’Rozario on the phone. Speaking from his office in Dhaka, the cardinal, who is the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCP), explained what the Catholic Church of Bangladesh and the nation expect from Pope Francis and his visit.
Card. D’Rozario first spoke about what the Church expects from the papal visit. First of all, he said, it will be “a pilgrimage of the Holy Father to all the people of Bangladesh – a pilgrimage to the “soul of Bangladesh”. Secondly, it will be a pilgrimage of the people to the Pope - to see him, meet him, listen to him and be near him. This, the cardinal said, they will do by praying and worshipping together on the same ground. The Pope’s programme includes the ordination of 16 sons of the soil to the priesthood and meetings with bishops, clergy, religious and lay people.
Regarding what the nation expects from the Pope’s visit, the Archbishop of Dhaka pointed to three areas. Besides being a spiritual leader, the Pope is also the head of Vatican City State. In this regard, he said, the Pope’s visit will be a celebration of diplomatic relations between the two states, which was established 46 years ago, soon after Bangladesh’s independence. This relationship, the 74-year old cardinal said, is “very unique…. mainly based on human, ethical and spiritual values.”
The Pope’s visit will also be a “celebration of harmony” of Bangladesh’s culture, as indicated by the logo and theme of the papal visit, “Harmony and Peace”. Cardinal D’Rozario said there will be a gathering of people of other religions and other Christian denominations. It will also be a “celebration of harmony of inter-religious relationship” involving young people in festive mood.
Thirdly, the papal visit will also be an encounter between the Pope and the poor of Bangladesh, some of whom, the cardinal explained have rich evangelical values. The visit will provide Pope Francis with an opportunity to listen to the voice of the country’s poor and take it to the whole world, especially regarding issues such as climate change, human rights and Rohingya refugees.
Card. D’Rozario also said that during his visit to Bangladesh, Pope Francis will recognize the achievements of Bangladesh that is “now considered a role model for development.”