Vatican City, Mar 24, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis sent a video message to the people of Bangladesh on Wednesday as they mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence and the centenary of the birth of the “Father of the Nation,” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the first president of Bangladesh when it declared independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971. He is called the “Father of the Nation” for having played a leading role in securing independence.
He also served as the second prime minister of Bangladesh, beginning in April 1971, until his assassination on August 15, 1975.
The Sheikh “knew that it is only in such a pluralistic and inclusive society, in which every person could live in freedom, peace and security, that a more just and fraternal world can be built,” the pope said.
Francis said that Bangladesh, “Golden Bengal,” has a unique natural beauty and is a modern nation striving to join unity of language and culture with respect for different traditions and communities.
“Bangladesh is a young state, and it has always had a special place in the heart of the popes, who from the start have expressed solidarity with its people, sought to accompany them in overcoming initial adversities, and supported them in the demanding task of nation building and development,” he said.
He expressed hope that relations between the Holy See and Bangladesh would continue to flourish and that the country would grow in interreligious encounters and dialogue, as he witnessed during his visit in 2017.
Bangladesh, the world’s eighth-most populous country, is a constitutionally secular state guaranteeing freedom of religion, while Islam is the state religion. Just over 90% of the population is Muslim, and 8.5% is Hindu, according to 2011 statistics. Buddhists and Christians are small minorities.
The total population of the country is 163 million, and according to Vatican data from 2015, Catholics number around 375,000.
Pope Francis’ video message to the country was addressed to the president, prime minister, and “the beloved people.”
“As you mark the 50th anniversary of your independence, I renew my firm conviction that the future of the democracy and health of the political life of Bangladesh are essentially linked to its founding vision and to the legacy of sincere dialogue and respect for legitimate diversity that you have sought to achieve over these years,” he said.
He said, “as a friend of Bangladesh, I encourage each of you, particularly the younger generations, to devote yourselves anew to working for peace and prosperity for the noble nation that you represent.”
Invoking God’s blessings on the country, he concluded by asking “all of you to continue in your work of generosity and humanitarian outreach to the refugees, the poor, the underprivileged and those who have no voice.”
When he visited Bangladesh from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, 2017, Pope Francis met a group of 16 Muslim Rohingya refugees during an interfaith meeting in the capital city of Dhaka.
Following an outbreak of violence against the stateless Muslim minority in Burma in 2017, more than 742,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Pope Francis told the refugees on Dec. 1, 2017, that he was close to them, and said, “in the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, of those who have wronged you, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask your forgiveness.”
“So many of you have told me about Bangladesh’s big heart that has welcomed you. Now I appeal to your big heart, that it can grant us the forgiveness we seek,” he said.