DHAKA – As Pope Francis led a mass at the Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka on Friday, Selim Uddin parked his rickshaw outside the park, curiously looking at the posters of the pontiff adorning the iron fence.
“I think the God of Christian people came here today,” said the rickshaw-puller, aged around 45. “He must be a good man and that’s why so many people have gathered inside to meet him. I haven’t seen a meeting like this in my life, people lined up in a disciplined way.”
Selim, who is from Natore, where a Catholic priest went missing on Monday, said he has always had a good impression of Christians.
“They are good people. You see today so many people came but without making a fuss. I have seen many political rallies here, there was always some chaos. This man must be different,” said Selim of the pontiff.
As well as stirring curiosity among some locals, the Pope’s visit to Dhaka has caused major delays in the city center for ordinary Bangladeshis trying to carry on with their daily routines despite the unusually large crowds.
Mohammad Suman, who runs a small business in Old Dhaka, had to wait for nearly an hour to see the crowd thin near the park before he could finally make his way towards his place of work.
“I heard the Pope came here, I saw it in the news. But I don’t know exactly who he is, nor am I interested,” Suman said as he weaved his way through crowds outside the Suhrawardy Udyan.
“All I was interested in was when the long queue would end. I was stuck for quite some time,” he said.
Muhammad Abdul Aziz, a fruit vendor in Dhaka’s Kadamtali area, also showed little interest in the commotion or much knowledge of the significance of Francis’ visit.
“I heard there is Christmas for Christian people today. It’s good they are enjoying themselves, after all, we are all born from the same mother,” said Aziz, while passing the Suhrawardy Udyan area.
Not everyone, however, was ignorant or oblivious to the first Papal visit to Bangladesh for more than 30 years.
Adil Raihan, a student of Islamic Studiesat Dhaka University, who was waiting for a friend just outside the park, hoped the Pope’s visit would help Bangladesh increase international awareness of the Rohingya crisis.
“He came from Myanmar, he met Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders. We all hoped he would speak about Rohingya issue. But he did not explicitly say anything there,” said Raihan.
“Now that he is here, we hope he will speak up, motivate the Bangladesh government to address the issue and help influence world opinion,” he said.
Catholics also hoped that the Pope would discuss the Rohingya crisis during his trip.
Francis Halder, stood outside the park with his wife Margaret Mandal to shelter from the blazing sun, told EFE that he hoped Francis would bless the Rohingyas as well as Catholics, “because they are the people in distress.”
Pope Francis arrived in Bangladesh on Thursday for a three-day visit, the first leader of the Catholic church to do so since Pope John Paul II in 1986.