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In the late eighties, while doing doctoral studies at the Gregorian (Rome), one day to my surprise I met Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach on the road leading to Bellarmino. He was literally watching the sky through the narrow space of the tall buildings. When I expressed my surprise, he said: “it is good to look at the sky even through the narrows spaces, whenever possible”. That was Kolvenbach; he seemed to place himself in limited space and routine schedule, but through them he tried to look at the vast expanse of the sky! A sort of monasticism of the heart in action! Later when we walked into the dining hall at Bellarmino, he was invited to the head table; he whispered: “I don’t like it; but I will go”. That was Kolvenbach; he seemed to dislike many things; but he liked to do things that were not to his taste; he obliged with a large heart.


At another occasion, I was taking my turn for the ‘manifestation’ during the provincials’ meet in Goa. I was surprised to see him waiting for me outside the room. I said: I am delighted to see that General of the Society waiting to receive me! He said: ‘that is the least I can do for you.’ He had the knack to be present to us when we met him, without betraying any personal inconvenience to him. Rarely he went out of the script; when he did, it was often cryptically witty.

In Kolvenabch I found an embodiment of classical tradition and wisdom. Classical in the best sense of the word: articulate and thorough; tradition in the sense of accumulated practices of the many ages; wisdom that is born out of regularity and routine.   In him I found a consolidating figure for the Society that was needed to be consolidated. That he did in his style.

George Pattery, SJ

6 Dec 2017 - 07:33

Remembering Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ

Father General Arturo Sosa has named the library of the Society at the General Curia in Rome, the "Peter-Hans Kolvenbach Library". This becomes the first Jesuit institution named after the 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Father Kolvenbach (1928-2016) was an avid user of the library throughout his stay at the General Curia. The new library was inaugurated on 24 November 2017 after a Mass of remembrance presided over by Father General Sosa.

The General Curia has also created a website dedicated to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. The website presents the life of Fr Kolvenbach, testimonials about him, and images from different moments of his generalate. Additionally, the website also presents selected writings of Fr Kolvenbach on the themes of religious life, Ignatian spirituality, and Ignatian Pedagogy. The website can accessed at the address

5 Dec 2017 - 14:42


Pope Francis waving farewell to Bangladesh at Dhaka airport after his Nov. 30-Dec. 3 visit. - EPA

Pope Francis waving farewell to Bangladesh at Dhaka airport after his Nov. 30-Dec. 3 visit. - EPA

Pope Francis flew back to Rome from Dhaka airport Saturday afternoon, concluding his 21st foreign visit outside of Italy that took him to Myanmar and Bangladesh. 

The Pope was given an official farewell at Dhaka airport, where the Minister for Foreign Affairs was present to see him take off on a Bangladesh Airlines aircraft on his flight back to Rome. 

‎The Pope was in Myanmar, Nov. 27-30, after which he visited neighbouring Bangladesh, Nov. 30-Dec 2.  ‎While Myanmar’s over 51 million population is nearly 90 percent Buddhist, where Catholics form only 1.2%, in neighbouring Bangladesh Muslims account for nearly 90% of the population, and Catholics less than 1 percent. 

The purpose of this 2-nation apostolic visit was not only to confirm the faith of the tiny Catholic communities in the two Asian nations but also to carry Christ’s message of reconciliation, forgiveness, peace and harmony among the people for the common good.  And that is what the logos and themes of the two visits indicated.  The theme of the Pope’s Myanmar visit was “Love and Peace”, and that the Bangladesh, “Harmony and Peace.” The Pope also encouraged ecumenical and interfaith cooperation in order to be a ‎prophetic and healing presence in the life of the nation.‎

In both the nations, the Catholic communities are active, especially in their outreach programmes for the poor and needy, which the Pope commended and encouraged.  Overall the Pope delivered 8 discourses and three homilies, celebrating two Masses in Myanmar and another Mass in Bangladesh with priestly ordination.


During his visit to Myanmar, the pope met popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the president and the top military general, in the backdrop of an international outcry against the atrocities on the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state who are fleeing to Bangladesh.  The Holy Father however respected the government’s request not to use the word Rohingya, who are denied citizenship. 

Meeting Myanmar’s state authorities, leaders of civil society and the diplomatic corps in Nay Pyi Taw, he encouraged the nation on the “arduous process of peacebuilding and national reconciliation” saying it can be achieved on only through a “commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” a process in which religious leaders have a crucial role to play. 

In Yangon, the Pope met Buddhist leaders and local bishops, but above all he went to meet ordinary Catholics, who travelled from all over the country to attend an open-air Mass.

In an unscheduled encounter with leaders of Myanmar’s various religious communities, Pope Francis urged them to work together to rebuild the country through unity amidst the nation’s diversity, and not through uniformity. 

Meeting the bishops of Myanmar he encouraged them in the task of healing, accompaniment and prophecy among a flock that bears the scars of conflict.

In meeting the powerful Supreme Council of Buddhist monks, Pope Francis urged them on the path of compassion and love towards all to heal the wounds caused by conflicts, poverty and oppression.

Celebrating Mass for young people in Yangon, the last event in Myanmar, the Pope urged them to carry the good news of Jesus to their suffering brothers and sisters in need of not only their prayers and solidarity but their enthusiasm for human rights, justice, and love and peace.


After his arrival in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Nov. 30, Pope Francis met the nation’s authorities, the diplomatic corps and civil society, and expressed appreciation for Bangladesh’s generosity and solidarity for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar.  He called on the international community to find a solution to the Rohingya crisis and help Bangladesh to meet the emergency.  He also stressed that the name of God be never invoked to justify hatred and violence on others.

During an open-air Mass on Friday, the only papal Mass in this trip, the Pope ordained 17 new priests and reminded them of their call to serve Christ the teacher, priest, and shepherd and help build the people of God, the Church.


But the highlight of the entire Myanmar-Bangladesh visit came Friday evening in a deeply moving encounter with 16 Rohingya refugees from Myanmarwho have sought shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.  Grasping the hands of each of the 12 men, 2 women and 2 young girls, at the end of an interfaith and ecumenical meeting in the capital, the Pope intently listened to their stories of horror, suffering and pain.  “The presence of God today is also called `Rohingya,''' the Pope said, asking their forgiveness for all the hurt and indifference they have endured, and demanded their rights be recognized.

On Saturday, the last day of his three-day visit to Bangladesh, the Pope visited a home for orphans, unwed mothers and destitute elderly run by the nuns of Mother Teresa.   In off-hand remarks to the nuns and priests there he praised Bangladesh for having what he called some of the best inter-religious relations in the world.  The Holy Father later met priests, religious and seminarians.

His last meeting of the entire trip was with young Bangladeshis, among whom were also Muslims and followers of other religions. Speaking to them at the Notre Dame College of Dhaka, he urged the young people to reject the false promises of happiness and go out of their self-centeredness to foster an environment of harmony, reaching out to others.  Commending Bangladesh’s respect for the elderly, the Pope urged them to talk to their parents and grandparents, without playing with their phones the whole day, ignoring everything around them.  

    3 Dec 2017 - 06:06

    Pope Francis urged Bangladeshi priests and nuns to resist the "terrorism of gossip" that can tear religious communities apart, delivering one of his trademark, zinger-filled spontaneous speeches to the country's Roman Catholic leadership on Saturday at the close of an otherwise tense and diplomatically fraught Asian tour.

    As he has done in similar encounters, Francis told the priests and nuns gathered in Dhaka's Holy Rosary Church that he was ditching the eight-page speech that he had prepared and would instead speak to them from his heart.

    "I don't know if it will be better or worse, but I promise it will be less boring," he quipped.

    And then for the next 15 minutes, Francis had the crowd in stitches, mixing paternal advice on how to tend to religious vocations ("with tenderness") with gentle warnings about the havoc that gossip "bombs" can wreak when lobbed in closed religious life.

    "How many religious communities have been destroyed because of a spirit of gossip?" said Francis, adding that he was speaking from personal experience. "Please, bite your tongue."

    History's first Jesuit pope has frequently lamented the damage gossip can do within the church, where vows of obedience, strict hierarchies and closed communities can breed jealousies and resentment.

    It's a message Francis has brought to ordinary parishes riven by divisions and to the top of the Catholic Church leadership. His most famous iteration came in his 2014 Christmas greetings to the Vatican bureaucracy, when he listed the "terrorism of gossip" as one of the 15 maladies his closest collaborators were suffering (alongside "spiritual Alzheimer's" and a "pathology of power.")

    The Bangladeshi version was far more jovial in tone, and many in the pews nodded along as Francis made one zinger after another to make his point. It was a humor-filled end to a tense diplomatic trip that saw Francis maintain public silence over the Rohingya refugee crisis while in Myanmar, only to address it head-on in Bangladeshwith an emotional encounter with refugees themselves.

    "The presence of God today is also called 'Rohingya,'" he told a group of 16 refugees who traveled to Dhaka from Cox's Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar where refugee camps are overflowing with more than 620,000 Rohingya who have fled what the United Nations says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar's military.

    Francis' final event in Bangladesh was a youth rally before boarding the plane for the flight home to Rome and his traditional airborne news conference.

    Curtesy: Los Angels Times

    3 Dec 2017 - 05:37

    Pope Francis has thanked Bangladesh for its humanitarian response to Muslim refugees fleeing Myanmar, but again avoided using the term Rohingya. The Pope had been criticised by rights groups for not using the term when he visited Myanmar, which does not recognise Rohingya as an ethnic group. He was speaking in Dhaka, where on Friday he will meet Rohingya refugees. He faces other issues in Bangladesh, including attacks on Christians and other minorities by radical Islamists. There are even fewer Catholics in Bangladesh than there are in Myanmar. They make up about 0.2% of the population, about 350,000 people, compared with about 600,000 in Myanmar.
    But the community has been targeted by Muslim extremists. Just days before Francis's arrival, a priest disappeared from the same village that saw a Catholic hacked to death last year. The priest, Walter William Rosario, had been organising a trip to the Pope's Mass in the capital, Dhaka, which takes place on Friday. In his speech, the Pope said: "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. This has been done at no little sacrifice. "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 had in the past used the term "Rohingya brothers and sisters".
    Francis also referred to the "indignation" caused by terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. He said: "The most holy name of God can never be invoked to justify hatred and violence against our fellow human beings." The Vatican has defended Francis's avoidance of the word Rohingya while in Myanmar. He had been warned by his Catholic representatives in the country not to use the term for fear of alienating the Buddhist majority.
    Myanmar's government rejects the term Rohingya. It labels the community "Bengalis" and says they migrated illegally from Bangladesh.
    More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the border since August amid a crackdown which Myanmar's government says was aimed at rooting out violent insurgents following deadly attacks on police posts by Rohingya militants. The UN has described the crackdown in the state of Rakhine as "textbook ethnic cleansing". A Vatican spokesman said that although its diplomacy was "not infallible", the Pope had lost no "moral authority" in his approach, which was intended to "build bridges" in Myanmar. The spokesman, Greg Burke, said: "The fact that the Pope is here and draws attention to the country itself is an incredibly positive thing." On Friday, the Pope will hold talks with Bangladesh's PM Sheikh Hasina.

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    Source: BBC News

    30 Nov 2017 - 15:31

    WorldAFPNov, 29 2017 10:57:13 IST

    Dhaka: A Catholic priest has disappeared in Bangladesh, police said Wednesday, a day before Pope Francis starts a landmark visit to the Muslim-majority nation wracked by Islamist extremism.

    Walter William Rosario, 40, is from the same village in northern Bangladesh where suspected Islamist extremists in 2016 hacked a Catholic grocer to death as he opened his shop.

    A major search has been launched for Rosario, who is also headmaster of a Catholic school in Natore district, after his family reported him missing, police said.

    "He has been missing since late Monday. His mobile has been switched off," local police chief Biplob Bijoy Talukder told AFP.

    Gerves Rosario, the bishop of the nearby city of Rajshahi, said he believed the priest had been kidnapped and that Catholics in the region were deeply worried.

    "He was organising for around 300 Catholics to travel to Dhaka to see the Pope and attend his holy Mass. But his disappearance has marred their joy. They don't want to go to Dhaka anymore," said the bishop.

    The family received a phone call from someone using Rosario's number to demand a ransom, but Talukder said police believed this was a hoax.

    Representational image. AFP

    Representational image. AFP

    They have not ruled out the possibility he was abducted by Islamist extremists, who have carried out attacks on religious minorities in the region in the past four years.

    Pope Francis arrives in Bangladesh Thursday on the first visit to the country by the head of the Catholic Church in 31 years.

    The trip will be dominated by the plight of more than 6,20,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled ethnic unrest in Myanmar and taken refuge in Bangladesh.

    Christians, who make up less than 0.5 percent of Bangladesh's 160 million people, have in recent years faced attacks by Islamist radicals.

    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 (JMB).

    In July last year militants from the same group stormed a Dhaka cafe and massacred 22 hostages including 18 foreigners in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

    However, the government has denied the international militants' involvement and security forces have killed more than 70 alleged militants since the cafe attack.

    30 Nov 2017 - 08:52

    Wednesday 29 November 2017
    Dear Brothers and Sisters,
    Before coming to this country, I very much looked forward to this moment. Many of you have come from far and remote mountainous areas, some even on foot. I have come as a fellow pilgrim to listen and to learn from you, as well as to offer you some words of hope and consolation.
    Today’s first reading, from the Book of Daniel, helps us to see how limited is the wisdom of King Belshazzar and his seers. They knew how to praise “gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Dn 5:4), but they did not have the wisdom to praise God in whose hand is our life and breath. Daniel, on the other hand, had the wisdom of the Lord and was able to interpret his great mysteries.
    The ultimate interpreter of God’s mysteries is Jesus. He is the wisdom of God in person (cf. 1 Cor 1:24). Jesus did not teach us his wisdom by long speeches or by grand demonstrations of political or earthly power but by giving his life on the cross. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing in our own wisdom, but the truth is we can easily lose our sense of direction. At those times we need to remember that we have a sure compass before us, in the crucified Lord. In the cross, we find the wisdom that can guide our life with the light that comes from God. 
    From the cross also comes healing. There, Jesus offered his wounds to the Father for us, the wounds by which we are healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). May we always have the wisdom to find in the wounds of Christ the source of all healing! I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible. The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom that, like that of the king in the first reading, is deeply flawed. We think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.
    Jesus’ way is radically different. When hatred and rejection led him to his passion and death, he responded with forgiveness and compassion. In today’s Gospel, the Lord tells us that, like him, we too may encounter rejection and obstacles, yet he will give us a wisdom that cannot be resisted (cf. Lk 21:15). He is speaking of the Holy Spirit, through whom the love of God has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). By the gift of his Spirit, Jesus enables us each to be signs of his wisdom, which triumphs over the wisdom of this world, and his mercy, which soothes even the most painful of injuries. 
    On the eve of his passion, Jesus gave himself to his apostles under the signs of bread and wine. In the gift of the Eucharist, we not only recognize, with the eyes of faith, the gift of his body and blood; we also learn how to rest in his wounds, and there to be cleansed of all our sins and foolish ways. By taking refuge in Christ’s wounds, dear brothers and sisters, may you know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory. In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community. 
    I know that the Church in Myanmar is already doing much to bring the healing balm of God’s mercy to others, especially those most in need. There are clear signs that even with very limited means, many communities are proclaiming the Gospel to other tribal minorities, never forcing or coercing but always inviting and welcoming. Amid much poverty and difficulty, many of you offer practical assistance and solidarity to the poor and suffering. Through the daily ministrations of its bishops, priests, religious and catechists, and particularly through the praiseworthy work of Catholic Karuna Myanmar and the generous assistance provided by the Pontifical Mission Societies, the Church in this country is helping great numbers of men, women and children, regardless of religion or ethnic background. I can see that the Church here is alive, that Christ is alive and here with you and with your brothers and sisters of other Christian communities. I encourage you to keep sharing with others the priceless wisdom that you have received, the love of God welling up in the heart of Jesus.
    Jesus wants to give this wisdom in abundance. He will surely crown your efforts to sow seeds of healing and reconciliation in your families, communities and the wider society of this nation. Does he not tell us that his wisdom is irresistible (cf. Lk 21:15)? His message of forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross is ultimately unstoppable. It is like a spiritual GPS that unfailingly guides us towards the inner life of God and the heart of our neighbour.
    Our Blessed Mother Mary followed her Son even to the dark mountain of Calvary and she accompanies us at every step of our earthly journey. May she obtain for us the grace always be to messengers of true wisdom, heartfelt mercy to those in need, and the joy that comes from resting in the wounds of Jesus, who loved us to the end. 
    May God bless all of you! May God bless the Church in Myanmar! May he bless this land with his peace! God bless Myanmar!

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    29 Nov 2017 - 13:36


    The Annual ACF Meet was held from 1 to 4 Oct. at Christ Hall, Kozhikode, Kerala. The participants included PCFs and RCFs, Rectors and Superior from common houses, the Formation Delegate from Rome, POSA and ADF. On 1 Oct. we had the sharing by the Rectors and Superior of common houses and by ADF. The second part of the sharing was done by the PCFs and RCFs. This sharing included significant events and initiatives, major challenges and issues of the formation scenario in the Assistancy.

    The second day was enriched with the reflections given by POSA on “Discernment in Common: Insights from GC 36”. In the following session Fr. Raj Irudaya made a presentation on the JCSA statement. After a personal reading and reflection on the same, we had fruitful spiritual conversations in small groups followed by reporting in a plenary session. More awareness, clarity and appropriate responses were generated on the statement.

    The third day was allotted for our deliberations on the issues and concerns that came up in the sharings. We experienced a sincere interest and concern in addressing the various issues of formation so that formation becomes more personalized, integrated, accompanied and transformative. The highlight of the day was also the thought-provoking sharing by Fr Jose Magadia, the Formation Delegate, Rome. Highlighting the powerful Venice image, an important step in the formation of the Society, he conveyed that we need to form Jesuits who are rooted in Christ, with solid interiority and equipped for learned ministry, marked by radical Ignatian availability of moving to the frontiers. He also shared with us the universal concerns and challenges related to formation in the Society.

    On the final day Fr ADF thanked all for their committed involvement in the formation of ours and also shared with us some common concerns. We also had the business session of planning for the next ACF Meet. On the whole the input sessions, interactions, group discussions and deliberations strengthened us to carry forward the ministry of formation with greater commitment and confidence.

    We are extremely grateful to the Provincial of Kerala for having hosted this meet graciously. We place in record the manifold services of Fr.P.T.Mathew and the community of Christ Hall to make our meet fruitful. With a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude we remember Fr.Salvin, the new PCF and Fr.Anto the outgoing PCF for their meticulous and effective arrangements.

    • Fr. Joe Xavier, S.J.



    29 Nov 2017 - 06:01

    ‎Address to Government Authorities, Civil Societies and the Diplomatic Corps
    Naw Pyi Taw, Convention Center
    Tuesday, 28 November 2017

    Madam State Counsellor,
    Honourable Government and Civil Authorities,
    Your Eminence, My Brother Bishops,
    Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I am grateful for the kind invitation to visit Myanmar and I thank you, Madam State Counsellor, for your kind words. I am very grateful to all who have worked so hard to make this visit possible. I have come, above all, to pray with the nation’s small but fervent Catholic community, to confirm them in their faith, and to encourage them in their efforts to contribute to the good of the nation. I am most grateful that my visit comes soon after the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the Holy See. I would like to see this decision as a sign of the nation’s commitment to pursuing dialogue and constructive cooperation within the greater international community, even as it strives to renew the fabric of civil society.
    I would also like my visit to embrace the entire population of Myanmar and to offer a word of encouragement to all those who are working to build a just, reconciled and inclusive social order. Myanmar has been blessed with great natural beauty and resources, yet its greatest treasure is its people, who have suffered greatly, and continue to suffer, from civil conflict and hostilities that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions. As the nation now works to restore peace, the healing of those wounds must be a paramount political and spiritual priority. I can only express appreciation for the efforts of the Government to take up this challenge, especially through the Panglong Peace Conference, which brings together representatives of the various groups in an attempt to end violence, to build trust and to ensure respect for the rights of all who call this land their home. 
    Indeed, the arduous process of peacebuilding and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights. The wisdom of the ancients defined justice precisely as a steadfast will to give each person his due, while the prophets of old saw justice as the basis of all true and lasting peace. These insights, confirmed by the tragic experience of two world wars, led to the establishment of the United Nations and the universal declaration of human rights as the basis for the international community’s efforts to promote justice, peace and human development worldwide, and to resolve conflicts through dialogue, not the use of force. In this sense, the presence of the diplomatic corps in our midst testifies not only to Myanmar’s place in the concert of nations, but also to the country’s commitment to uphold and pursue those foundational principles. The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.
    In the great work of national reconciliation and integration, Myanmar’s religious communities have a privileged role to play. Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nationbuilding. The religions can play a significant role in repairing the emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds of those who have suffered in the years of conflict. Drawing on deeply-held values, they can help to uproot the causes of conflict, build bridges of dialogue, seek justice and be a prophetic voice for all who suffer. It is a great sign of hope that leaders of the various religious traditions in this country are making efforts to work together, in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect, for peace, for helping the poor and for educating in authentic religious and human values. In seeking to build a culture of encounter and solidarity, they contribute to the common good and to laying the indispensable moral foundations for a future of hope and prosperity for coming generations.
    That future is even now in the hands of the nation’s young people. The young are a gift to be cherished and encouraged, an investment that will yield a rich return if only they are given real opportunities for employment and quality education. This is an urgent requirement of intergenerational justice. The future of Myanmar in a rapidly changing and interconnected world will depend on the training of its young, not only in technical fields, but above all in the ethical values of honesty, integrity and human solidarity that can ensure the consolidation of democracy and the growth of unity and peace at every level of society. Intergenerational justice likewise demands that future generations inherit a natural environment unspoilt by human greed and depredation. It is essential that our young not be robbed of hope and of the chance to employ their idealism and talents in shaping the future of their country and, indeed, our entire human family.
    Madam State Counsellor, dear friends:
    In these days, I wish to encourage my Catholic brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith and to continue to express its message of reconciliation and brotherhood through charitable and humanitarian works that benefit society as a whole. It is my hope that, in respectful cooperation with the followers of other religions, and all men and women of good will, they will help to open a new era of concord and progress for the people of this beloved nation. “Long live Myanmar!” I thank you for your attention, and with prayerful good wishes for your service to the common good, I invoke upon all of you the divine blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.

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    Sunny Jacob



    29 Nov 2017 - 05:28

    YANGON, Myanmar — Pope Francis landed in Myanmar, and in a diplomatic minefield, on Monday.

    In a first papal visit to the country, the pope met with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of Myanmar’s military, which has driven more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country in what the United States has called a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

    The pope is scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the government, who has been widely criticized as complicit for her silence in the face of the slaughter.

    In Myanmar, the pope will seek to strike a careful balance by maintaining his moral authority without endangering his tiny local flock.

    The United Nations, the United States and others have denounced the murder, rape and pillaging of the Rohingya in western Myanmar as ethnic cleansing, but the pope has been advised by the Roman Catholic Church here not to utter the word Rohingya, for fear of aggravating the situation or of being exploited for domestic politics.

    Continue reading the main story


    Children in traditional clothes greeted the pope in Yangon. CreditAndrew Medichini/Associated Press

    Despite the criticisms of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the pope’s allies have urged him to lend her his support — and, they hope, political strength — as the country’s best chance to prevent a backslide into absolute rule by the military.

    The Constitution, written by the military, puts the armed forces out of her control. And the military has enough support in Parliament to prevent any changes that could loosen the grip on power held by General Min Aung Hlaing, who has ambitions to run the country.

    Continue reading the main story

    So for Francis, his first meeting here with the general, which was added at the last minute, might well be the more important one.

    “It’s smart to meet the commander in chief first because he is very important and the principal person to solve this challenge facing our country,” said Dr. Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city.

    According to the Vatican, the meeting with the general and top commanders from the Bureau of Special Operations lasted about 15 minutes and was a “courtesy visit” at the residence of the local archbishop, where Francis is staying.

    Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesman who is traveling with the pope, said they had discussed “the great responsibility of the country’s authorities in this moment of transition.”

    A statement on the general’s Facebook page paraphrased him as telling the pope that soldiers sought to build a stable and peaceful country and “there’s no religious discrimination in Myanmar and there’s the freedom of religion.”

    The pope then gave the general a medallion commemorating his visit. The general gave the pope an ornate rice bowl and a harp in the shape of a boat.

    The timing of the meeting suggested that the pope was mindful of the egos and agendas that he must navigate without making a misstep that could endanger Myanmar’s 700,000 Catholics, who make up about 1.3 percent of the population.

    If the gravity of the task weighed on him, he did not show it on the flight from Rome.

    On the plane, Francis seemed in good spirits, apologizing beforehand for the scorching temperatures in Myanmar and announcing, “Now I will salute you.” He also walked through the cabin, gamely signing books and accepting the trinkets of reporters.

    Continue reading the main story


    People lined the street as the pope’s motorcade entered downtown Yangon. Some wore, or waved, the Vatican’s colors, yellow and white. CreditRoberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    Upon arriving in Yangon, Francis was greeted on the tarmac by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the city’s archbishop, followed by local bishops and a delegation of children in traditional clothing.

    As he left Yangon Airport in a Toyota Mark II Grande sedan, Francis rolled down a window to wave at hundreds more children cheering “Viva, Papa” next to curious backpackers and wary security officials. The surrounding streets were lined with young people in white T-shirts and yellow hats with the trip’s official emblem, a heart under the motto “Missionary of Love and Peace.” Some waved Vatican flags and had its yellow-and-white colors painted on their cheeks.

    Those crowds thinned, though signs on lampposts extended “A Heartiest Welcome to the Holy Father Pope Francis, Missionary of Love and Peace.”

    Copies of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, which were made available on the plane, featured a front-page interview with Cardinal Bo in which the prelate said that the pope “will arrive in a moment in which the country is in the news because of the migration of thousands of people.”

    Continue reading the main story


    Catholics from the ethnic Kachin community gathered Monday to see the pope in Yangon as his motorcade passed. CreditGemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press

    “There is great hope that his presence will succeed in melting the heart of everyone and push the country towards a lasting peace,” the cardinal said in the interview.

    The semantic flexibility — saying migration instead of ethnic cleansing, Muslims of Rakhine State instead of Rohingya — has introduced a degree of diplomatic absurdity to the visit, especially for a pontiff who has a reputation for speaking his mind.

    In a certain sense, the trip may be a needless headache for Francis.

    After a visit to India fell through, Myanmar filled a hole in the pope’s schedule. The trip was meant in part to celebrate and solidify the new diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Myanmar established during Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s stop at the Holy See in May.

    Continue reading the main story


    A banner welcoming the pope during what could be a fraught visit. CreditMax Rossi/Reuters

    As the onetime darling of the humanitarian community and democracy activists, she was already starting to come under criticism at that time for the poor treatment of the Rohingya. The situation has since deteriorated, and her reputation has sunk as she has failed to confront a military crackdown on the Rohingya — or “those who have crossed over to Bangladesh,” as she has called them.


    But the church’s leaders in Myanmar, especially Cardinal Bo, whom Francis elevated in 2015, have argued that the pope must invest in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, as she is perhaps the country’s last, and best, chance to proceed on a road to democracy and the protection of civil rights.

    Francis is scheduled to fly to the capital, Naypyidaw, to meet her on Tuesday.

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    Prayers at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Yangon on Monday. Roman Catholics make up 1.3 percent of Myanmar’s population. CreditLillian Suwanrumpha/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    Correction: November 27, 2017 

    An earlier version of this article incorrectly described a present given to Pope Francis in Myanmar. It was a harp in the shape of a boat, not in the shape of a goat.


    28 Nov 2017 - 06:35