Pope Francis celebrated a huge outdoor Mass on Friday to ordain new priests from Bangladesh on his first full day in the country where he is due to meet Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar later in the day.
More than 100,000 people attended the Mass in Dhaka’s Suhrawardy Udyan Park, site of a memorial and museum of Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971, where Francis arrived in an open popemobile.
Catholics make up less than one percent of the population of 169 million people in majority-Muslim Bangladesh.
“I know that many of you came from afar, for a trip for more than two days,” the pope told the crowd in his homily.
“Thank you for your generosity. This indicates the love you have for the Church.”
At an inter-religious gathering later on Friday, the pope was due to meet 18 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar where authorities have been accused of ethnic cleansing by the United States and United Nations.
In calls for peace in Myanmar, he did not use the word Rohingya to describe the refugees, which is contested by the Yangon government and military.
The refugees were brought to the Bangladeshi capital from Cox’s Bazar, to where 625,000 Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state have fled.
The exodus followed a Myanmar military crackdown in response to Rohingya militant attacks on an army base and police posts on Aug. 25.
Scores of Rohingya villages were burnt to the ground, and refugees arriving in Bangladesh told of killings and rapes.
On Thursday night, the pope called for decisive measures to resolve the political reasons that caused the refugee crisis and urged countries to help the Dhaka government deal with it.