“Our meeting, which brings together representatives of the various religious communities present in this country, represents a highly significant moment in my Visit to Bangladesh,” Pope Francis said on December 2, 2017. “For we have gathered to deepen our friendship and to express our shared desire for the gift of genuine and lasting peace.”
His remarks come at the Inter-religious and Ecumenical Meeting for Peace took place in the garden of the Archbishop of Dhaka. The meeting included representatives of various religious communities, including, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Catholic, as well as civil society.
When Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Dec. 1 in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, there was a substantial attendance of Catholic cardinals and bishops from neighboring India. The pope was not invited to Hindu-majority India amid perceived political sensitivities. However, the largely Muslim nation of Bangladesh had no such qualms about welcoming the pope for his Nov. 30-Dec. 2 visit. “I’m carrying the love and loyalty of Catholics in West Bengal to the pope,” said Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta, the Indian port city on the Bay of Bengal.
The original plan was for Pope Francis to visit India and Bangladesh, but this was changed to Myanmar and Bangladesh. The tentative itinerary was altered in August, observers say, after the Indian government failed to issue an invitation fearing the presence of the pope would alienate Hindu voters.
Archbishop D’Souza told the media that he would invite Pope Francis to make a future visit to Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta, where St. Mother Teresa founded her famous Missionaries of Charity congregation to serve the poorest of the poor. The nuns in the Kolkata headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity also regretted the fact that the papal itinerary would not include India and their city. “We would have loved it if the pope had come to Kolkata,” said senior Missionaries of Charity Sister Eta. “But it is God’s will that he is not coming.”
During his address to the inter-religious leaders in Dhaka, the Holy Father said, “Our meeting, which brings together representatives of the various religious communities present in this country, represents a highly significant moment in my Visit to Bangladesh. For we have gathered to deepen our friendship and to express our shared desire for the gift of genuine and lasting peace.”
Referring to the addresses by other leaders and the music and dances, the Pontiff said, they “have enlivened our assembly, have spoken to us eloquently of the yearning for harmony, fraternity and peace embodied in the teachings of the world’s religions. May our meeting this afternoon be a clear sign of the efforts of the leaders and followers of the religions present in this country to live together in mutual respect and goodwill.”
Pope Francis praised believers and all people of good will who are increasingly “called to cooperate in shaping a culture of encounter, dialogue, and cooperation in the service of our human family. This entails more than mere tolerance. It challenges us to reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding, and so to build a unity that sees diversity not as a threat, but as a potential source of enrichment and growth. It challenges us to cultivate an openness of heart that views others as an avenue, not a barrier.”
He urged all peoples of the world, representing all religions to have a “spirit of openness, acceptance, and cooperation between believers does not simply contribute to a culture of harmony and peace; it is its beating heart. How much our world needs this heart to beat strongly, to counter the virus of political corruption, destructive religious ideologies, and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities, and those who are most vulnerable. How much, too, is such openness needed in order to reach out to the many people in our world, especially the young, who at times feel alone and bewildered as they search for meaning in life!”