ROME – Pope Francis began on Sunday a trip that will take him to Myanmar and Bangladesh, where he will be until Dec. 2 and on which he will meet with representatives of other faiths with the harsh persecution of the local Muslim Rohingya minority in the background.
The Alitalia Airbus A330 took off from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport at 10:10 pm with the Vatican delegation and 69 journalists on board, including reporters with EFE, Spain’s international news agency.
Among the members of the Curia accompanying the pontiff are Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Fernando Filoni.
The aircraft is scheduled to land in Yangon, Myanmar – formerly known as Rangoon – on Monday at 1:30 pm and afterwards the pope will be ferried to the local archbishopric to rest.
Although nothing is on the pontiff’s agenda for Monday, Francis might surprise people with a last-minute visit or event of some kind.
On Tuesday, Francis will begin his official agenda and will meet with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw and with Nobel Peace Prize winner and de facto government opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Naipyidaw, the Burmese capital.
Some 650,000 Catholics live in Myanmar representing a little more than 1 percent of the population of 53 million. Overall, Christians make up just over 6 percent of the country’s population.
The pope will also meet with local Buddhists and will celebrate two Masses for the Catholic faithful in Myanmar.
In contrast to Rohingya Muslims, Christians in Myanmar have not faced significant violence or persecution and local Christian leaders say that they enjoy “peaceful coexistence” in the largely Buddhist country formerly known as Burma, which was ruled by the British for about a century until its independence in 1948.
On Nov. 30, the pontiff will fly to Bangladesh on the second leg of his Asia trip.