When Pope Francis touches down in Asia this November, for his fourth visit to the region in as many years, it will do much to underline his regard for the peripheries of the traditional Catholic world. Yet, however closely he embraces the region, his hopes of forging a stronger relationship with China appear likely to remain – at least for now – an unanswered prayer.
The visit, still not officially announced for the Myanmar leg, but which should take place from November 23 to December 8, will make Francis the first pontiff in history to visit Myanmar and only the second to visit Bangladesh, after Pope John Paul II’s 1986 trip to Dhaka.
“This confirms the openness with which the Holy Father looks to Asia,” said Father Sergio Ticozzi, of Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Seminary, “not only to China, but also to Vietnam, Bangladesh and Myanmar: it is very significant, since it shows how much the Holy See is aware that the future of the world lies in Asia.”
The visit comes after an invitation extended to the pontiff by Myanmar’s president, Htin Kyaw, in May, when the two countries formally established diplomatic relations during State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Italy and the Vatican. While the Pope’s schedule has been cleared for the above dates, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar still has not officially announced the visit, due to concerns of possible unrest from “ultra-nationalists elements”, according to one source.
At the time, the Pope expressed his concern for the situation in Rakhine State in northern Myanmar, where the Rohingya, a majority Muslim community in a predominantly Buddhist country, have faced violence and what the UN and rights groups say may amount to crimes against humanity by the army.
According to reports, the State Counsellor did not change her stance on…