When Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the invitation of the Myanmar government to visit Myanmar many eye brows were raised. Myanmar has a tiny catholic population - 700,000 - and is a Buddhist country. The country is also undergoing international scrutiny over the Arkhan Muslim conflict.
Those who know our Holy Father would not have been surprised. The prophet of this era always had a special love for those in the margin. Constantly urging the Church to have “a perspective from the margin”, Pope Francis has been honoring the small Christian communities with his visit. Apart from Myanmar, Bangladesh, a Muslim country with a very small population of Catholics, would receive the Pope.
"A perspective from the margin"
Our people, most of them poor and suffering discriminations because they are Christians, welcomed the news with overwhelmed joy. They have sincere love for their Shepherd always and their dream of seeing him would be fulfilled. The Pope will see how the church is really catholic with seven colorful tribes and others. The Church is the only group in this country that represent every cultural group.
The Catholic church is in full swing – with prayers for the success of the trip. Various committees were formed to respond the logistical challenges of hosting a great leader for the Mass and other events. We expect to have a crowd of 300,000 for the Papal Mass. The Pope has special love for the youth and he would end his trip with a special Mass for the Youth in the Yangon Cathedra. He would be meeting the High Monks of the nation.
The government led by Daw Aung San Su Kyi has welcomed this trip with great hope. Daw Aung San Su Kyi met the Pope personally in May and facilitated the diplomatic relationship. The government has appointed competent people to monitor the logistics and protocol. The Pope will be given full government honors and is expected to meet the leaders and civil society in the capital city: Nay Pyi daw.
Blessings and challenges
The Pope will be coming to a country with blessings and challenges. Blessing because after six decades a democratically elected government is in place, with greater freedom for the press. Daw Aung San Su Kyi managed to bring all parties in conflict together for two peace conferences.
But he will also find a country that is struggling to find peace with Justice. The conflict with ethnic groups is smoldering. He has a special heart for those who suffer and he has been giving voice to the suffering of the Muslims in Arakan state. This will be his challenge since in the recent weeks there was an explosion of conflicts and the world community is surprised by the response of the democratic government and the de facto leader Daw Aung San Su Kyi.
There is hope in the air. The Pope's visit is a pliligrimage of peace. In its invitation the Presidente of the country wrote that Francis visit would birng greater peace and harmony to this country. All sections of the population are awaiting with great expectation that the healing presence of our Holy Father would usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation.
This is a moment of grace to the church and nation. Pope Francis has won the hearts of millions through his love and simplicity in many corners of the earth and much loved by all people. In every Christian home, every child, every youth, every parent await with joy and gladness, the coming of God’s messenger on earth.
*Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar
Stay up to date: sign up for our newsletter
For insights and analysis subscribe to our biannual journal