DHAKA: Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature enjoyed a rickshaw ride during a visit to St Mary’s Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Friday.
Around 100,000 Bangladeshi Catholics crammed into a park in central Dhaka, cheering and chanting “viva il papa” (“long live the pope”) as Francis was driven through the crowd in an open-sided popemobile made specially for the occasion.
Pope Francis led a giant open-air mass in Dhaka on Friday ahead of finally coming face to face with Rohingya refugees whose desperate plight has dominated his landmark tour of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Shortly after arriving from neighbouring Myanmar late Thursday he urged the world to take “decisive measures” to resolve the crisis that has forced more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing ethnic unrest across the border into overstretched camps in Bangladesh.
The comments marked his first explicit reference to the persecuted Muslim minority since the start of his diplomatically fraught tour.
But as in Myanmar he avoided using the term “Rohingya”, seen as incendiary to some in the Buddhist-majority country who deny they are a distinct ethnic group.
Security was tight for Friday´s mass, which follows a rise in attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh by Islamist extremists.
Mainly-Muslim Bangladesh has a tiny Christian population but they turned out in large numbers for Friday´s service, many having queued for hours to get into the park where some 4,000 police and security forces had been deployed.
“I feel like I am blessed to join the Pope´s prayers,” said 60-year-old widow Pronita Mra, who had travelled from her village in northeastern Bangladesh.
“I´ll pray for my late husband and parents so that they go to heaven. I hope the Pope will pray for peace and harmony among all communities in Bangladesh.”
Tapan Martin, 42 and from Dhaka, said he hoped the pope´s prayers would help the Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh in their hundreds of thousands since a crackdown by the Myanmar military that began in August.