VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Accepting suggestions by Myanmar’s cardinal, Pope Francis has added two private meetings to the schedule for his visit to the country: one with religious leaders and the other with the commander of the military, who wields great political power in the country.
Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said Pope Francis will meet Nov. 28 with representatives of various religions present in Myanmar and Nov. 30 with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. Burke also said the public Mass in Yangon Nov. 29 will begin an hour earlier than originally scheduled because of the heat.
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing wields great political power in the country.
About 90 percent of Myanmar's population follows Theravada Buddhism, and Pope Francis already had a meeting scheduled with the Sangha supreme council, which oversees the Buddhist monks throughout the country. But Myanmar also is home to Muslims, Hindus and followers of other Buddhist traditions, as well as Baptists, who far outnumber Catholics in the country.
The military in Myanmar, and Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in particular, have been harshly criticized by the international community for their campaign against the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority. The military claims the crackdown is a response to violence, but the United Nations has said the crackdown is hugely disproportionate and amounts to ethnic cleansing.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, who suggested the pope meet with the general, has publicly said he urged Pope Francis not to use the word “Rohingya” for fear of inciting Buddhist nationalists and the military. Burke told reporters they would have to listen to the pope’s speeches to see if he accepted that suggestion as well.
Representatives of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh will meet Pope Francis Dec. 1 in Dhaka during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace, Burke said.
Below is the revised schedule for Pope Francis’ visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Time listed are local with Eastern Standard Time in parentheses.
Sunday, Nov. 26 (Rome)
9:40 p.m. (3:40 p.m.) Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport.
Monday, Nov. 27 (Yangon)
1:30 p.m. (2 a.m.) Arrival at Yangon International Airport.
Tuesday, Nov. 28 (Yangon, Naypyitaw, Yangon)
10 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Nov. 28) Private meeting at the archbishop’s residence with religious leaders. Mass in private.
2 p.m. (2:30 a.m.) Departure by plane for Naypyitaw.
3:10 p.m. (3:40 a.m.) Arrival at Naypyitaw airport.
3:50 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace.
4 p.m. (4:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit to Htin Kyaw, president of the republic, at the presidential palace.
4:30 p.m. (5 a.m.) Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and foreign minister, the country's de facto leader.
5:15 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Meeting with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the city's international convention center. Speech by pope.
6:20 p.m. (6:50 a.m.) Departure by plane for Yangon.
7:25 p.m. (7:55 a.m.) Arrival at Yangon airport, transfer to archbishop's residence.
Wednesday, Nov. 29 (Yangon)
8:30 a.m. (9 p.m. Nov. 28) Mass at Kyaikkasan sports ground. Homily by pope.
4:15 p.m. (4:45 a.m.) Meeting with the Sangha supreme council of Buddhist monks at the Kaba Aye pagoda. Speech by pope.
5:15 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Meeting with the bishops of Myanmar at St. Mary's Cathedral. Speech by pope.
Thursday, Nov. 30 (Yangon, Dhaka)
Meeting (time unspecified) with military commander, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in the archbishop's residence.
10:15 a.m. (10:45 p.m. Nov. 29) Mass with young people in St. Mary's Cathedral. Homily by pope.
12:45 p.m. (1:15 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Yangon International Airport.
1:05 p.m. (1:35 a.m.) Departure by plane for Dhaka, Bangladesh.
3 p.m. (4 a.m.) Arrival at Dhaka's international airport. Welcoming ceremony.
4 p.m. (5 a.m.) Visit to national martyrs’ memorial in town of Savar.
4:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Pay homage to the late-Sheik Mujibur Rahman, known as “father of the nation,” at the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum.
5:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit to President Abdul Hamid at the presidential palace.
6 p.m. (7 a.m.) Meeting with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the presidential palace. Speech by pope.
Friday, Dec. 1 (Dhaka)
10 a.m. (11 p.m. Nov. 30) Mass and ordination of priests in Suhrawardy Udyan park. Homily by pope.
3:20 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Visit with the country’s prime minister at the apostolic nunciature.
4 p.m. (5 a.m.) Visit the city's cathedral.
4:15 p.m. (5:15 a.m.) Meeting with Bangladesh’s bishops at a residence for elderly priests. Speech by pope.
5 p.m. (6 a.m.) Interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop's residence. Speech by pope.
Saturday, Dec. 2 (Dhaka, Rome)
10 a.m. (11 p.m. Dec. 1) Private visit to the Mother Teresa House in the capital's Tejgaon neighborhood.
10:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. Dec. 1) Meeting with priests, men and women religious, seminarians and novices at the Church of the Holy Rosary. Speech by pope.
11:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.) Visit the parish cemetery and historic Church of the Holy Rosary.
3:20 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Meeting with young people at Notre Dame College. Speech by pope.
4:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Dhaka International Airport.
5:05 p.m. (6:05 a.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.
11 p.m. (5 p.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.