(from Yangon) – Every detail of the visit – ranging from the welcome that will be given by 20 children from various ethnicities at the airport upon the Pope’s arrival in Myanmar, to live-TV broadcasts – is being prepared with great care. Scheduled televised events to date are those of November 28 – with political authorities in the capital Nay Pyi Taw- and the Holy Mass of November 29 at Kyaikkasan Ground in Yangon. Every detail is attentively followed by Monsignor John Saw Yaw Han, auxiliary bishop of Yangon, local coordinator of the apostolic visit. Myanmar is looking forward to the Pope’s arrival. But the local population know very little of his figure, owing to 55 years of isolation under a stern military regime, and to the fact that 85% of the population are Buddhists. “A person asked me if the Pope will be arriving from England”, the bishop said with a smile, adding that he is sure that Myanmar will love the Pope, a Pope that is capable of opening unexpected doors. “A security officer in Myanmar recently met the Pope during a meeting held in Rome between the heads of Vatican security and those of Myanmar. The Pope gave him a rosary, and he was deeply touched by this experience. It will be the same for the population of Myanmar”.
Why has the Pope decided to visit this Country?
Because he has at heart the wellbeing of all those in need, and his gaze is extended to the peripheries. He is the shepherd with the smell of the sheep.
What are the highlights of this visit?
The meeting with national political authorities and the diplomatic corps at the International Convention Center, where Francis will deliver his first public speech. On 29 November Holy Mass will be celebrated at the Kyaikkasan Ground in Yangon, and 150 thousand people are expected to attend. We invited the leaders of other religions who will have special seats. The program includes a meeting with the “Sangha” supreme Council of Buddhist monks and with the highest Buddhist authority in Myanmar at the Kaba Aye Centre. There is high anticipation for the encounter of two world leaders of Catholicism and Buddhism. Immediately after, the Pope will meet the local bishops and the following day there will be a Holy Mass with young people.
The schedule in Yangon envisages a lot of free time. Do you anticipate unplanned events?
Indeed, it’s a possibility, ma nothing has been confirmed yet. All I can say is that more events are expected to take place.
In your opinion, why has the Pope decided to visit Myanmar at this moment in time?
In his video message to the people of Myanmar Pope Francis spoke of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace in our Country. He said his visit is meant to confirm the Catholic community of Myanmar in its worship of God and its witness to the Gospel.”
Why did he choose these three words?
Myanmar is struggling in her efforts to strengthen democracy. It’s a long, delicate process that nobody can carry out alone.
Now is the time to learn to work together, as a community, for the development of democracy. It’s a challenge.
But there is also another challenge, namely, to create new job opportunities for the young. Increasing numbers of people decide to emigrate abroad in search of better future prospects, but migration forces people to leave their friends, their dear ones and their culture, behind. For this reason there is an urgent need to create new job opportunities to stop people from leaving the Country.
In Myanmar there are 135 ethnic groups. How difficult is the path of reconciliation?
We ought to be reconciled with our neighbour not only in Myanmar but in all corners of the world, including with our own families. It’s a fundamental step. If we accept ourselves we must also learn to accept others, their cultures and places of origin. It’s important. But based on my experience true reconciliation always entails forgiveness, and when forgiveness is bestowed it instils serenity and peace. I consider it a very important message for our Country and for every human person.
What do you expect from this visit?
The Pope’s visit to our land is a dream come true. It was the dream of our fathers, of our forefathers. We are grateful to the Pope for giving us this opportunity. It’s the first time that a Pope visits Myanmar, it will happen while we celebrate 500 years of the Catholic Church’s presence in Myanmar. We feel that this visit is a blessing for us.
During the past few days you have been in touch with national political authorities. What’s their approach to the visit?
First of all they showed great availability to do everything possible to promote and organize the visit. The Pope has made a great gift to the Country by deciding to come here. Myanmar intends to convey to the Pope her deep gratefulness and hospitality.
We are a hospitable people, we are looking forward to welcome him.
What will you say to Pope Francis when you meet him?
I will tell him that I am very grateful for his decision to visit to our Country, I wish to thank him and tell him that I love him.