DHAKA – Pope Francis asked different religious communities in Bangladesh on Friday to work together to end the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and the most vulnerable sections.
The Pope made these remarks at an inter-religious meeting with hundreds of leaders of the different religions present in Bangladesh (Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians) amid a festive atmosphere with traditional songs and dances and in the presence of hundreds of religious representatives.
Also present at the meeting was a group of Rohingyas, the Muslim minority persecuted in Myanmar, who have fled in large numbers to Bangladesh and who arrived directly from the refugee camps where they now live.
The pope described the meeting as a “highly significant moment” of his visit to Bangladesh to “deepen our friendship and to express our shared desire for the gift of genuine and lasting peace.”
“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 good will,” he said.
“In Bangladesh, where the right to religious freedom is a founding principle, this commitment stands as a subtle yet firm rebuke to those who would seek to foment division, hatred and violence in the name of religion,” he added.
He urged those present to “build a unity that sees diversity not as a threat, but as a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
Pope Francis also spoke to those gathered about the term he has used often in his speeches during his pontificate: the culture of encounter, which he said “is not an abstract theory but a lived experience.”
“It calls for good will and acceptance, yet it is not to be confused with indifference or reticence in expressing our most deeply held convictions,” he stressed.
He also praised how the diverse religious communities of Bangladesh have embraced the commitment to work together on issues such as “the care of the earth, our common home, and by their response to the natural disasters that have beset the nation in recent years” and their reaction to the Rana Plaza collapse, the textile factory which collapsed in 2013, killing 1,127 people and injured over 2,000.
“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,” the pope declared.
He also urged those present to “help all believers to grow in wisdom and holiness, and to cooperate in building an ever more humane, united and peaceful world.”