Pope to visit Bangladesh and Myanmar later this year – Crux: Covering all things Catholic

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ROME – Pope Francis will be visiting Myanmar and Bangladesh in late November early December, the Vatican confirmed on Monday. Both countries, with small Christian and even small Catholic communities, represent once again his outreach to other religions and to the Asian continent.

Though the detailed program hasn’t been made public yet, according to a Vatican statement announcing the Nov. 27-30 trip to Myanmar and Nov.30-Dec. 2 trip to Bangladesh. In Myanmar, the pope will visit the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, while in Bangladesh only its capital, Dhaka.

The motto for his visit to Bangladesh is “Harmony and Peace.” According to the explanation given, it’s a call to harmony among “religions, cultures, peoples, society, history, heritage and traditions” in the country, while peace refers to that experience, “as well as aspired in future with a vision of integrated human and spiritual development in Bangladesh.”

“Love and Peace” this is the motto of Francis’ visit to Myanmar. “Christian peace is founded on Love,” says the statement released by the Vatican. “There cannot be peace without love. Love, which the people of Myanmar value most, will pave the way to peace. The visit of our Holy Father is to promote Love and Peace in Myanmar.”

For a pope who’s on the record saying he wasn’t going to do much travelling, Francis has collected an outstanding number of stamps in his passport since 2013. This tour will be Francis’ 21st international outing, and the fourth one this year, after his upcoming trip to Colombia. To date, he’s visited a grand total of 28 countries since and every habitable continent but Oceania.

Last year, Francis told journalists he intended to visit India and Bangladesh in 2017, but it took longer than anticipated to work out details with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a strong Hindu nationalist who’s at times been seen as hostile to the country’s small Christian minority.

Both Asian countries have very small Christian communities, and even smaller Catholic ones.

In the case of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, there are around 450,000 Catholics in Burma, less than 1 percent of the total 53 million. Bangladesh, on the other hand, has a majority Muslim population, and the estimated 350,000 Catholics represent less than 0.2 percent of the 163 million total. In both countries the systemic discrimination in employment, poverty among Christians is widespread.

Yet Francis, often dubbed the pope of the peripheries, has been close to the Catholic Church in both countries, creating first-ever cardinals for both nations: Cardinal Charles Bo in Myanmar and Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario in Bangladesh.

Speaking with Crux earlier this month, D’Rozario had confirmed that the possibility of a papal trip to Bangladesh was being considered. “The Church of Bangladesh is joyfully awaiting the Holy Father’s visit,” he said at the time. “The Holy Father comes as a religious leader, as a pilgrim.”

“Bangladesh is a Church of the poor, for the poor,” D’Rozario said, while insisting it’s “poor in Spirit, but there is a richness in our poverty.”

RELATED: Bangladesh cardinal says Pope will see church ‘rich in our poverty’

As a head of state, the pope cannot visit a country without the invitation from the national government. However, as is often the case, particularly in countries where Catholics represent such a stark minority, protests and warnings against the visit have already been voiced.

In recent days, as rumors regarding a possible papal visit began to spread, Buddhist nationalist groups in Myanmar warned the pontiff against using his visit to champion the case of the Rohingya, the Muslim minority in Rakhine State that many Buddhists insist are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

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