by Sister Runu Mrong, CSC
The message left on my voicemail said, “You have a private meeting on July 1, 2017, at 5 p.m. in the CBCB (Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh) Center.” I wondered, “Just what is this special meeting about?” Not knowing anything else, I attended the meeting where I saw Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, CSC, archbishop of Dhaka, Auxiliary Bishop Shorot Francis Gomes, local priests, brothers, government officials and Church lay leaders. Naturally, I was nervous.
After introductions, the cardinal briefly explained the purpose of our meeting: Pope Francis would be coming for a three-day visit to Bangladesh, and each person present would have a special role to play. All 16 of us, we learned, were assigned to serve on the reception committee for the papal visit. I later discovered that other Holy Cross sisters also had been commissioned to help during the event; Sister Shikha Laetitia Gomes on the executive committee; Sister Bashona Rebeiro on the liturgy committee; and Sister Minoti Rozario on the construction committee. In all, nearly 300 people—mostly laypersons—were involved in the planning and preparations for the historic occasion.
I was responsible for organizing students to attend various ceremonies. On the first day of the visit, which was from November 30 to December 2, I assembled a group of 40 children to greet Pope Francis at the airport with an orchestrated dance and a bouquet of flowers and a garland.
The next day, at the Suhrawardy Udyan national memorial in Dhaka, where Pope Francis officiated Mass, he was met by 200 smiling children. In all, more than 80,000 people gathered for the event, where Pope Francis ordained 16 priests and prayed for peace in Bangladesh and the larger world.
That evening, during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace, Pope Francis made a special point of expressing appreciation to Bangladesh for its generosity and solidarity with Rohingya Muslim people fleeing Myanmar. He then called on the international community to find a solution to the Rohingya crisis and to help Bangladesh meet its current emergency.
In a deeply moving encounter at the close of the evening, Pope Francis met with 16 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who had relocated to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. He received each person in turn, grasped their hands and listened intently to them as they shared their stories of horror, suffering and pain. “The presence of God today is also called ‘Rohingya,’” the Pope said. He asked their forgiveness for all the hurt and indifference they had endured, and demanded their rights be recognized. Even now I am touched as I recall my tears when the pope asked their forgiveness.
The next day at Holy Rosary Church at Tejgaon, the pope warned against speaking bad things about others. “It is just like the terrorists who don’t say, ‘I am a terrorist,’ but leave bombs behind,” he said. Such actions, he added, only create distrust and division, which eventually destroy harmony. Even today, his message remains a great inspiration and blessing in my daily life, reminding me to share words that are gentle and loving.
It was a personal blessing to be part of the reception committee, which allowed me to play a part in this special moment for the Christian community and all of Bangladesh. I felt blessed when I saw the pope with the bouquet of flowers and garland, both of which I had arranged. As I stood at the VIP gate in Suhrawardy Udyan with 200 children welcoming Pope Francis, I felt something holy, sacred coming down from heaven to Earth.
Sister Gidding Simsang, CSC, contributed to this article.