DHAKA – Pope Francis held a mass attended by tens of thousands of worshippers in Suhrawardy Udyan park in the Bangladeshi capital during which he ordained 16 new priests for the small church of the country which has less than 400 priests.
The pontiff arrived in Dhaka Thursday from Myanmar and explained in his address to Bangladeshi authorities that his priority for this visit was to show closeness with the country’s small Catholic community of less than 500,000 people that represents about 0.2 percent of the population.
While riding on his popemobile, the Catholic leader was greeted with cries of “Long live the Pope!” in their local language from thousands of followers who came from all parts of the country, some having even traveled overnight.
Authorities stated that 100,000 people had gathered for the mass.
Among the attendees was a Spanish priest Benjamin Gomez who works as a missionary in a tribal area of northern Bangladesh and who arrived with three buses, one of which was filled with 40 orphans.
The Pope dedicated a few words thanking them for their generosity in these sacrifices.
“I know some of you have come after traveling for two days. Thank you for your generosity, this indicates the love you have for the church, the love you have in Jesus Christ,” he said.
He then asked the faithful to pray for the priests of Bangladesh, especially those who will receive the sacrament Friday.
The local Catholic Church considered the gesture of the Pope, who during the ceremony ordained 16 priests – 10 are diocesan, one from the Oblates of Mary and five from the Congregation of the Holy Cross – as a gift.
All of the priests were students from the Holy Spirit Major Seminary, the only one in the country, which currently has about 400 seminarians.
One of the new priests is young Jashim Murmu, a native of the Dinajpur diocese who will be the first priest from his village, all the inhabitants being from the Santhal tribe, reported the Vatican agency Asianews.
In Bangladesh, a country with 163 million people, where 90 percent are Muslims, the Catholic Church has an archdiocese, seven dioceses with 34 religious congregations, of which there are 380 priests and 1,500 nuns, according to Asianews data.