International desk – Pope Francis has urged Myanmar’s Catholics to respond to hatred and rejection with “forgiveness and compassion” as the pontiff addressed a historic mass to over 150,000 worshippers in Yangon.
“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible,” he told the open-air mass adding “Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.”
The pontiff’s first visit to the pre-dominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian country, and the first ever by a sitting Pope, came at a time when the Asia’s biggest refugee crisis unfolded between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
An estimated 624,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh fleeing Myanmar’s military operations targeting minority Muslims in northern Rakhine state. The United Nations and the United States coned the army crackdown as ethnic cleansing.
Squinting in the sun, crowds of Burmese worshipers waved Vatican and national flags while Francis passed them in the Popemobile, as he made his way to the temporary altar at the Kyaikkasan Sports Ground in Yangon.
“Many of you have come from far and remote mountainous areas, some even on foot,” he spoke in Italian to the crowd.
“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,” the Pope said.
Dressed in pink, Daw Hseng said she left her home in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, around 1,600 kilometers from Yangon, nearly a week ago to make it to the Mass in time.
“We slept on the road,” CNN quoted to her as saying. “The train just went direct, we didn’t stop. We rode the whole night.”
Pope Francis will spend three days in Myanmar before he travels to Bangladesh on Thursday, where he’s expected to meet at least a small group of Rohingya refugees while in the capital Dhaka.
The last pope to visit Bangladesh was Pope John Paul II in 1986.