On Friday Pope Francis sent a video greeting to the people of Myanmar ahead of his Nov. 27-30 trip, saying he is coming to proclaim the Gospel and promote peace in a country gripped by a heated humanitarian and political crisis surrounding the Rohingya Muslim minority.
In the video, published Nov. 17, the said he wants to “confirm the Catholic community of Myanmar in its faith in God and in its testimony of the Gospel, which teaches the dignity of every man and woman, and demands (us) to open our hearts to others, especially to the poor and the needy.”
Above all, Francis said he is coming “to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ (and) a message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.”
The visit to Myanmar is the first part of two stops in a Nov. 27-Dec. 2 trip that will also take Pope Francis to Bangladesh.
It also takes place amid an uptick in state-supported violence against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim community — an ethnic and religious minority — which in recent months has reached staggering levels, causing the United Nations to declare the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
With an increase in violent persecution in their home country, many of the Rohingya population has fled to neighboring Bangladesh, with millions camping along the border as refugees.
In his video message the Pope thanked everyone working in preparation of his visit and asked for their prayers, that it would be “a source of hope and encouragement for everyone.” He said he also hopes to visit the country in a “spirit of respect and encouragement,” so the nation may endeavor to “build harmony and cooperation in serving the common good.”
Many people at this time, both believers and people of goodwill, feel an increasing need to grow in mutual understanding and respect as “members of the only human family,” he said, “because we are all children of God.”
The Pope’s pastoral visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh was officially announced by the Vatican in August and a first-draft of his schedule was released Oct. 10. He will be in Myanmar, also called Burma, Nov. 27-30 and in Bangladesh Nov. 30-Dec. 2.
Pope Francis will leave the Vatican in the evening on Nov. 26, landing the following day in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, where he will stay during the first portion of his trip. After the official welcoming, he will have time to rest before the full-schedule begins the next day.
On Tuesday, Nov. 28, he will fly to Nay Pyi Taw, where there will be another official welcoming and arrival ceremony and an official visit with President Htin Kyaw.
He will then meet with the state advisor and minister of foreign affairs, before an encounter with other government authorities, leaders of civil society and the diplomatic corps, where he will give his first official speech of the visit.
The following morning Francis will celebrate Mass at the Kyaikkasan Grounds park. In the afternoon he will give speeches at separate meeting with the Supreme Council of “Sangha,” a term referring to Buddhist clergy in the country, and in a meeting with the bishops of Myanmar.
He will conclude his visit to Myanmar with a Mass for young people at the Cathedral of St. Mary’s in the morning of Nov. 30 before departing for Dhaka in Bangladesh.
Catholics in Myanmar are a small minority, only making up approximately 1.3 percent of a population of nearly 52 million. However, there are even fewer priests, both diocesan and religious, who number only one per every 742 Catholics.