By Gerard Gough

THE CARDINAL from Myanmar, who paid an extensive visit to Scotland in 2016, has encouraged his nation’s Faithful to prepare themselves spiritually for the visit of Pope Francis to the troubled country this November.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, released a statement this month urging the country’s 700,000 Catholics to prepare themselves spiritually to ensure the success of the upcoming Papal visit, which will see Pope Francis visit Myanmar from November 27-30, before travelling onto neighbouring Bangladesh from November 30 until December 2.

“Say special prayers for the Pope’s visit every day, make the intention while saying the Rosary daily, pray at Mass,” Cardinal Bo urged.

The Pope will arrive in Yangon, where he will hold several meetings, before travelling on to the capital Naypyidaw to meet President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.  At least 300,000 Catholics and other faiths across Myanmar and neighbouring countries are then expected to join the Holy Father for an open-air Mass back in Yangon.

This is the first time that a Pope has visited Myanmar—formerly Burma—and it comes in the wake of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Myanmar, shortly after a private ‎meeting between Pope Francis and State Counsellor and Foreign Minister of Myanmar, Aung San Suu ‎Kyi in the Vatican on May 4. On August 12, the Pope subsequently appointed Archbishop Paul Tschang In-Nam ‎as Apostolic Nuncio to the country.

The decision by the Holy Father to visit both Myanmar and Bangladesh was taken in large part due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the former, which has seen more than 310,000 people—from the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine State—flee to Bangladesh to seek refuge amid reports of extreme persecution from Myanmar’s Security Forces.

The latest crackdown against the Rohingya people was triggered on August 25 when an insurgent group attacked more than two dozen security sites and killed 12 people. Militia groups, local security forces and the Army of Myanmar army responded with ‘clearance operations’ that have forced refugees into Bangladesh and left tens of thousands more displaced inside the state.

Pope Francis has spoken out regularly in support of the Rohingya people and the day before the Vatican announced his trip, he appealed for the end of ‘the persecution of the religious minority, our Rohingya brothers and sisters,’ and asked for them to be given ‘their full rights.’ The Holy Father has also highlighted the plight of Muslims being driven out of Myanmar as part of his efforts to recognise the plight of migrants of all religions worldwide.

The tragic situation was one that Cardinal Bo made particular mention of in his speeches during last May’s visit to Scotland, which focussed on the theme of freedom of religion and belief for all.

“In Myanmar, I work closely with my Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters, and with my Christian brethren from Protestant traditions,” Cardinal Bo said. “Unity in diversity is a theme that the world desperately needs reminding of.

“Myanmar is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country with a majority Burman, Buddhist population. If Myanmar is to be truly free, peaceful and prosperous, the rights of all ethnicities and religious faiths must be protected.

“The plight of the Rohingyas is an appalling scar on the conscience of my country. They are among the most marginalised, dehumanised and persecuted people in the world. They are treated worse than animals. Stripped of their citizenship, often rejected by neighbouring countries, they are rendered stateless. No human being deserves to be treated this way. I therefore appeal for assistance: humanitarian aid and political assistance to help us resolve this conflict.

“I hope that the Pope will address many issue[s] of all people in Myanmar in a way that brings healing not hatred. A section here is not happy to see the real peace.”

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