How does Bangladesh’s Christian community view Pope Francis' visit to Dhaka? How important is this visit?
For us, and especially for the Catholic community, it is a great inspiration to see the Pope in person. The Christian community is very happy that the Holy Father is visiting Bangladesh.
The community will gather in droves to listen to him, to see him in person, to experience him closely and if possible, to touch him.
The Christian community is very enthusiastic about the Pope’s visit. They are spiritually preparing for the experience.
How significant is the visit of the Holy Father's?
The Pope is coming to Bangladesh as the head of the church, and as a religious leader. He is also coming to Bangladesh as the head of state of the Vatican, a tiny country of 109 acres of land, which has impact all over the world.
The Pope will hold meetings with the president and the prime minister of Bangladesh. He will also meet different religious leaders.
I see it as a state visit and also a visit to the people. He is scheduled to visit the National Martyrs' Memorial in Savar, and will also visit the Bangabandhu Museum to pay his respect.
The other thing that I would like to mention is that Pope Francis loves Bangladesh, which he has expressed with his statements.
For example, during the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, he termed the working conditions of garment workers as “modern slavery.” He also sympathises with the victims of the recent floods in South Asia, including Bangladesh.
Pope also supports the victims of the ongoing Rohingya crisis and let us not forget that I, a Bangladeshi national, was appointed Cardinal for the first time in the history of the country.
It proves that the Pope wants the world to know about Bangladesh and its people.
I hope that he will address climate change issues. The Pope recently wrote a book on world environment titled “On Care for Our Common Home.” I am sure Pope Francis will appreciate all the steps that have been taken by Bangladesh to fight climate change.
In Bangladesh, there is a unique harmony among different cultures and religions, which the Pope will get to experience. The theme for his visit is “Harmony and Peace.” The harmony that exists in Bangladesh will be celebrated in the presence of the Holy Father.
Pope Francis is well aware of the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh. He is happy to know that Bangladesh has not only opened the borders but also opened their heart to receive them [the Rohingya].
How do you see the ongoing situation in Myanmar?
Humanity is under attack in many places, by many people and in many ways. Humanity is under attack across the globe.
For us, the oppression of Rohingya is a humanitarian crisis, where we see humanity being attacked before our eyes. They have the right to have land, home and to live peacefully.
How do you see Bangladesh’s handling of the crisis?
The example that Bangladesh has set by letting them [the Rohingya] enter, should be a lesson for the people in Myanmar. It should appeal to their moral compass.
I believe that our attitude towards the refugees has been best expressed by the prime minister. The Rohingya people are her brothers and sisters, and she is with them.
Could you please elaborate on your perspective about the religious harmony in Bangladesh?
First of all, the people of Bangladesh are religious. In Bangladesh, secularism does not automatically mean absence of religious view, contrary to some other countries. In Bangladesh, secularism allows every religion to coexist. This is the kind of attitude and mentality that we have.
However, once in a while, we witness conflicts over religious issues, but in reality those are mostly political problems. There are some militant groups that are trying to disrupt the communal harmony and peace in the country.
I will try to explain this in my own way. Winds can create waves in a river, but underneath the water there is calm, peace, and harmony. These are the treasured values that we have.
When the two terror attacks occurred in Sholakia and in Gulshan, I said that they [militants] do not belong to our culture. Their so-called ideology is something imported from outside.
Followers of all religions have the responsibility to safeguard our culture and our values. No one should destroy our core identity. Let us be religious.
How can religious views and values play a role in pacifying this Rohingya crisis?
As long as our focus is on the people, as long as our focus is on the victims, we will be able to find a solution to the ongoing crisis.
People can face oppression for a multitude of reasons, be it historical, political or religious. For example, I learned that the Rohingya people are being thrown out of their homes and some of the big countries are backing this atrocity, because Myanmar has promised them industrial zones in the region.
Can this be a valid reason for displacing people from their homes?
People have the right to live on their land and we should focus on that. We must not view the crisis as a religious, ethnic, political or a geopolitical issue.
All the religions call for peace, harmony and humanity, but why is the image of these religions being tarnished by criminal acts and terrorist activities of some groups of people?
Religion has not been understood in the proper sense. The core ideology of religion is about eliminating divisions among people. If the foundation of a religion is God, people will see that He [God] does not discriminate.
He [God] does not say that I will not shower rain on Hindus or I will not protect the Christians.
Religion does not divide, nor does it support discrimination. Devout people are usually the silent majority in a religion.
However, there are people who use their religion to justify bigotry and discrimination. Why?
One thing is very clear to us. God has given us intelligence. We have been created in the image of God. We have intelligence to know or understand what is good and what is not. We have freedom to take decision in favour of good or in favour of evil.
We must decide how to act according to the instructions of God.
What is your call to the people in tackling this humanitarian crisis?
I would appeal to keep politics aside when it comes to this crisis and to not view it from a religious perspective. It is humanity that is under attack.
As a Christian, I feel for them. With all my heart, I am ready to do everything on my part to be at their [Rohingya refugees’] side. Through Caritas, I am trying to help the Rohingya refugees.
One of my favourite quotes from Saint Irenaeus is: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
A man is really a human being fully alive through his freedom, his intelligence, and his humanity.
Do you believe that Myanmar will respond to Pope's call for peace and humanity?
He has already called for peace in Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. The Holy Father will surely address the issue, but, he will do so with respect to the internal affairs of the country.
The Pope will not compromise with his values. He will talk about peace and about the rights of the people.
Every country has its internal problems to deal with but the core values of humanity should not be compromised.
The right of the people to live must not be compromised.
The Holy Father does not claim to be a religious leader for everyone but he does address important issues, be it economics, politics, business, climate change and other things happening in the world because he is a spiritual leader for the people, not a religious leader.
He is here for every one of us and not just for the Christians. That is why he is considered as the voice of the conscience of the world and people respect him. He goes beyond the boundaries of nations, cultures, groups and, or religions.