Pope Francis is to visit Burma and Bangladesh at the end of November, the Vatican has confirmed.
The Pontiff will visit the Burmese cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw from 27 to 30 November, followed by the city Dhaka in Bangladesh from 30 November to 2 December.
The visit comes amid a thaw in relations between the Holy See and the Burmese government. In May, the two sides agreed to establish full diplomatic relations after a meeting at the Vatican between Pope Francis and Burmese state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 2015, Pope Francis made Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, the first ever Burmese cardinal. Cardinal Bo said last year the country was entering a “season of hope” while visiting Britain.
“Our country was taken to five decades of Calvary by evil men. Everyone thought this was a country without an Easter. You have witnessed from afar the suffering of this nation. Those times many countries did undergo the way of the Cross. There was an iron curtain. But our country was under what was called a bamboo curtain.”
Burma is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, with Christians making up just over six per cent of the population. Only a fifth of those are Catholic. Meanwhile, just 0.4 per cent of the population of Bangladesh, the other country on Pope Francis’s itinerary, are Christian.
Benedict Rogers, an author of three books on Burma and East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, noted that the Pope spoke yesterday about the plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims. He said: “For the Pope to speak out for and stand in solidarity with a persecuted Muslim community so robustly sends a vital and very welcome message about the values of human dignity, religious freedom and inter-religious harmony for all.
“I hope, however, that as he prepares to visit Burma in November Pope Francis will also speak out for other ethnic nationalities in the country, particularly the Kachin and Shan, who are facing similar war crimes and crimes against humanity at the hands of the Burmese army, in addition to continuing to defend the basic human rights of the Rohingyas and other persecuted Muslims in Burma.”