Bangladeshi leaders of different faiths hope the upcoming visit by Pope Francis will promote harmony and tolerance in this Muslim-majority nation.
However, one hardline Muslim group warned it would protest if the pontiff said or did anything “unexpected and unacceptable.”
The Nov. 30-Dec. 2 visit will be the third by a pope to the populous, impoverished country.
Pope Paul VI made a 1970 stopover lasting a few hours in then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to express sympathy for victims of a devastating cyclone.
Pope John Paul II came to independent Bangladesh on Nov. 19, 1986.
During his forthcoming trip to the capital, Dhaka, Pope Francis will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid as well as members of the diplomatic corps and civil society.
He will pay respects at two national memorials.
The pontiff will celebrate Mass for more than 100,000 people in Dhaka, where he will ordain 16 deacons to the priesthood.
He will attend interfaith and ecumenical gatherings and also call at a home for the destitute run by the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation that St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta founded.
Radicals welcoming but vigilant
The hardline Bangladesh Hefazat-e-Islam (Protectors of Islam) group has pushed for rigorous implementation of an anti-blasphemy law, execution of atheists, Islamization of school textbooks and removal of idols and statues from public places.
The group has also attacked what it sees as Christian evangelization in some areas.
A senior Hefazat leader welcomed the Pope coming to Bangladesh, but said he would closely monitor the visit.
“Pope Francis is the supreme leader of Christians and head of the Vatican state, so we welcome him in our country,” Mufti Faizullah, a joint secretary of the group, told ucanews.com.
A celebration of values, joy and love
The popeâ€™s visit will celebrate a 46-year Vatican-Bangladesh relationship, said Cardinal Patrick Dâ€™Rozario of Dhaka.
The relationship was based on universal values such as compassion and human dignity, transcending ethnicity and politics, Cardinal Dâ€™Rozario told ucanews.com.
“I have seen the joyful feeling in people, who are eager to have an encounter with the leader who is a symbol of unity of the church,” Cardinal Dâ€™Rozario said.
Bangladesh is struggling to cope with a refugee influx triggered by violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
The pope is expected to take up the issue publicly or privately.
Cardinal Dâ€™Rozario noted that Bangladesh had lived up its “traditional values” by accepting fleeing Rohingya.
“The pope is coming for harmony and peace, not for just Rohingya but for all,” he said.
“He is not coming to solve any problem, but he will surely have a message for them and for everyone.”
The cardinal noted that the Rohingya crisis had similar elements to violence against marginalized communities around the globe, including where “big world powers” are involved.
“The pope will not just talk about Rohingya, but other persecuted people and maybe he will be critical of those who â€˜shed crocodileâ€™s tearsâ€™ for Rohingya but not for others, like Christians in the Middle East,” the prelate added.