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1 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 30 November, 2017 10:24:02 PM
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Pope urges world to act on Rohingya crisis

Red carpet rolled out as Pope Francis arrives on 3-day visit
Staff Reporter
Pope urges world to act on Rohingya crisis
Pope Francis (C-L) is met by Bngladesh President Abdul Hamid (C-R) after arriving at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka yesterday. Pope Francis arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar for the second stage of a visit that has been overshadowed by the plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. AFP Photo

Pope Francis yesterday called for "decisive" international action on the Rohingya refugee crisis as he began a visit to Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 of the Muslim minority have sought sanctuary after fleeing violence in Myanmar. The pope made the comments in a speech shortly after arriving from Myanmar, where he walked a diplomatic tightrope, staying away from allegations that the army is waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims, despite pressure to publicly confront the incendiary issue.

Earlier, a red carpet was rolled out as Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, arrived in the afternoon on a three-day state visit, aiming to promote peace and reconciliation.

President Abdul Hamid received the Pope when A VVIP flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines carrying him landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at about 2:45 pm from Yangon, Myanmar. He was given a 21-gun salute and highest state honour.

President Hamid introduced cabinet members and other dignitaries with Pope Francis at the presentation line.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Law Minister Anisul Haque were also present at the airport to welcome the Pope.

Cabinet Secretary M Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, the chiefs of three services, PM's senior secretary Suriya Begum,Vatican City Ambassador to Bangladesh George Kocherry, Inspector General of Police (IGP) M Sohidul Haque, PM's Press Secretary and high civil and military officials were present.

"None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps," the pope said in his speech, according to AFP.

"It is imperative that the international community take decisive measures to address this grave crisis, not only by working to resolve the political issues that have led to the mass displacement of people, but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs," the pope told Bangladeshi dignitaries and diplomats. He praised Bangladesh for taking in the mass exodus across the border into overcrowded makeshift camps since a fresh outbreak of violence in Rakhine state in late August.

But as in Myanmar, he refrained from using the word "Rohingya", instead referring to "refugees from

Rakhine state".

Pope Francis had been urged not to use the name in Myanmar to avoid provoking hardline Buddhists and making the country's Catholics a target. Francis -- the first pope to visit Bangladesh in 31 years -- will spend three days in the mainly-Muslim country, which is grappling with a rise in Islamist extremism that has seen Catholics attacked for their faith.

In Dhaka he will meet some of the Rohingya refugees, whom he has described as his "brothers and sisters", and lead a mass for Bangladesh's tiny Catholic minority.

Myanmar's government denies the Rohingya are an ethnic group, insisting they are "Bengali" migrants who

are not entitled to full citizenship. The pontiff was warmly embraced by Myanmar's Catholics, who make up just over one percent of the population.

On Friday he will lead a mass in central Dhaka that is expected to be attended by around 100,000 people. Bangladesh's Catholics make up less than 0.5 percent of the population of 160 million and have for centuries lived in relative harmony with their Muslim neighbours.

Following the arrival of Pope Francis, President Abdul Hamid, at a private meeting, sought the Pope’s help in sending back the displaced Rohnigyas to their homeland and keeping up the pressure on Myanmar to resolve the protracted crisis, according to UNB.

"During the meeting, the President categorically sought Pope's active role so that different countries and the international community put pressure on the Myanmar government to settle the issue," President's Press Secretary Joynal Abedin quoted the president as telling the meeting.

Thanking Pope's stance on the Rohingya issue, the President hoped that Pope Francis will play a very positive role to ensure their (Rohingyas) safe and dignified return to their ancestral land.

He recalled the heartfelt support of the Vatican government during the 1971 Liberation War and said the relations between Bangladesh and Vatican City strengthened gradually.

Pope Francis visited National Martyrs' Memorial in Savar from 4:00 pm to 4:20 pm where he placed wreaths and signed visitors' book and planted a sapling.

He then paid a visit to Bangabandhu Memorial Museum where he placed wreath beside the portrait of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and signed visitors' book.

Pope Francis later met met President Abdul Hamid again at Credentials Hall of Bangabhaban.

During a meeting with Pope Francis at Bangabhaban in the evening, President Hamid said the very commendable position of Pope Francis has taken in favour of the distressed Rohingyas and his passionate voice against such brutality, raises hope for resolving the crisis.

"Your closeness to them, your call for helping them and ensure their full rights provide moral responsibility to the international community to act with promptness and sincerity," the President said.

"Now, it's our shared responsibility to ensure for them (Rohingyas) a safe, sound and dignified return to their own home and integration with the social, economic and political life of Myanmar."

Hamid said Bangladesh has given shelter to one million Rohingyas who were forcefully displaced from their ancestral home in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. He said thousands of Rohingyas, including women and children, were brutally killed, thousands of women violated as they saw their houses burnt into ashes.

The President said they had to take shelter in Bangladesh to escape the ruthless atrocities committed by Myanmar army. "Our people have welcomed them with open heart, sharing food, shelter and other basic needs. They've accepted the inconvenience of accommodating them in a densely populated land with limited resources."

About religious interfaith, the President said no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.

The government is pursuing a 'zero tolerance' policy in eradicating the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism, he said, adding that it denounces extremism, in all its forms and manifestations.

At the same time, like other Muslim majority countries, Hamid said Bangladesh remains concerned about the rise of Islamophobia and hate crimes in many western societies, which is adversely affecting the lives of millions of peaceful people of faith. "We believe that interfaith dialogues, at all levels of the society, are important to combat such extremist trends."

Highlighting the role of Pope Francis, President Hamid said the Pope reminds that all have a sacred obligation to protect planet earth and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

"We stand with you in your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to adverse effects of a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world," he added.

Welcoming Pope Francis, Hamid said his visit to Bangladesh is recognition of the history of religious tolerance and harmony and age-old tradition of peaceful coexistence by the people of different religions in Bangladesh.

Cabinet and parliament members, eminent citizens and diplomats were, among others, present at the meeting.

Addressing a meeting at Bangabhaban, Pope Francis said no single community, nation or state can survive and make progress in isolation.

"In today's world, no single community, nation or state can survive and make progress in isolation. As members of the one human family, we need one another and are dependent on one another," he said.

Recalling the role of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Pope said Mujib envisioned a modern, pluralistic and inclusive society in which every person and community could live in freedom, peace and security, with respect for the innate dignity and equal rights of all.

Noting that the future of this young democracy and the health of its political life are essentially linked to fidelity to that founding vision, Pope Francis said adding "for only through sincere dialogue and respect for legitimate diversity can a people reconcile divisions, overcome unilateral perspectives, and recognise the validity of differing viewpoints."

Because true dialogue looks to the future, he said, it builds unity in the service of the common good and is concerned for the needs of all citizens, especially the poor, the underprivileged and those who have no voice.

About Rohingya crisis, Pope Francis said in recent months, the spirit of generosity and solidarity which is a distinguishing mark of Bangladeshi society has been seen most vividly in its humanitarian outreach to a massive influx of refugees from Rakhine State, providing them with temporary shelter and the basic necessities of life.

But he did not mention the word 'Rohingya' during his whole speech.

"This has been done at no little sacrifice. It has also been done before the eyes of the whole world. None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps."

The Pope said it is imperative that the international community take decisive measures to address this grave crisis, not only by working to resolve the political issues that have led to the mass displacement of people, but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs.

President Abdul Hamid also spoke at the meeting.

Pope Francis later went to the Embassy of the Holy See in the capital’s Baridhara area where he will stay during the visit.

Pope Francis will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at 3:20 pm today and will visit the Cathedral at 4:00 pm. He will hold a meeting with the Bishops of Bangladesh in the Home for retired priests. Pope Francis would join a prayer service at Suhrawardy Udyan later in the day..

On Saturday, the Pope will have a private visit to Tejgaon Mother Theresa House and meet priests, religious and consecrated men and women in the Holy Rosary Church.

The papal visit comes days after the disappearance of a Catholic priest in the same village where suspected Islamist extremists hacked a Catholic grocer to death last year.

Walter William Rosario, 40, had been making arrangements for some 300 Catholics to travel to Dhaka for the pope's mass.

Since 2015 at least three Christians, including two converts from Islam, have been hacked to death in attacks blamed on the militant Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

Tens of thousands of Catholics have travelled to the capital hoping to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who is to travel to the park for Friday's mass on a traditional cycle rickshaw.

The 80-year-old Argentine pontiff has established a reputation for his down-to-earth manner, vowing to stamp out extravagance among the clergy and bring the Catholic Church closer to the poor.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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