POPE FRANCIS TWEETED TODAY: I want my visit to embrace all the people of Myanmar and to encourage the building of an inclusive society.

Just a few highlights of Pope Francis’ first full day in Myanmar (meeting with religious leaders, welcome ceremony at airport in capitol city, meeting with government officials, presidential palace:


(Vatican Radio) On the first full day of his journey to Myanmar, Pope Francis travelled on Tuesday to the new capital city of Nay Pyi Taw for an official welcome ceremony at the presidential palace.

Our correspondent for this visit, Philippa Hitchen, also went to visit the city and sends this report…

Nay Pyi Taw, where Pope Francis travels on Tuesday to meet the president and popular Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

It’s a four hour drive north from Yangon, on the road to Mandalay (literally!) although the pope is taking a short plane trip to the city, which was purpose built by the former military government, just over a decade ago. Its name means ‘Abode of the King’ and it was designed to showcase what the rulers of the day hoped would be the nation’s rapid transformation into a leading Asian economic powerhouse.

Purpose built modern metropolis

Almost overnight in 2005, administrative offices were transferred, lock, stock and barrel from Yangon to the new site, which was officially inaugurated with a giant military parade the following year.

The part of the city that the pope – and most other visitors – see is an eerie ghost town of wide, empty roads, lined with gleaming government offices, huge luxury hotels and amusement parks that light up like a kind of Disneyland after sundown.

Giant presidential complex

At the heart of this strange, modern metropolis lies the colossal presidential palace complex, surrounded by gardens, with a moat and tall, iron railings. It’s inside this vast building that the pope begins his visit, meeting privately with both President Htin Kyav and Aung San Suu Kyi, officially the State Counsellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs, although most people here call her simply ‘The Lady’.

Peace, reconciliation and minority rights

After that, Pope Francis goes onto a giant convention centre to give his first address to government leaders, diplomats and the country’s ruling elite. It’s here that everyone will be listening very attentively to his words about peace and reconciliation, religious freedom and the rights of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities that are likely to be key themes on this short, but vital papal visit the region.


Before his departure for the new capital city of Myanmar, Pope Francis met with 17 leaders of Myanmar’s religious communities Tuesday morning, telling them that peace consists in unity in diversity, not in uniformity.  The Pope met leaders of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic and other Christian communities at the Archbishop’s House in Yangon, at the start of his first full day of his November. 27-30 apostolic visit to Myanmar.

The Holy See spokesman, Greg Burke said that the during his 40-minute meeting with them, the Pope urged them to work together to rebuild the country and that if they argue, they should argue like brothers, who reconcile afterwards.

After various leaders spoke, Pope Francis spoke off-hand in Spanish helped by an interpreter.  Alluding to the Psalms, he said, “ How beautiful it is to see brothers united!”   He explained that being united does not mean being equal.  “Unity is not uniformity, even within a religious community.  Each one has his values, his riches as also shortcomings. We are all different. … Peace consists in a chorus of differences, unity comes about in differences.”

Francis said, “Peace is harmony,” and he noted a trend in the world towards uniformity to make everybody equal, denouncing this as a “cultural colonization” that “kills humanity.” He said religious leaders should understand the richness of our differences – ethnic, religious or popular – and what results from these differences is dialogue. “As brothers, we can learn from these differences,” the Pope stressed, exhorting the religious leaders to “build the country, which is so rich and diverse even geographically.”

After that meeting, the Pope travelled to the new capital city of Nay Pyi Taw for an official welcome ceremony at the presidential palace. After meeting the president, government officials and the diplomatic corps, he flew back to Yangon.  His scheduled included (all times local-Myanmar is 5 and a half hours ahead of Rome):

14:00 – Departure by air for Nay Pyi Taw

15:10 – Arrival at Nay Pyi Taw Airport – Official welcome

15:50 – Welcome ceremony in the Presidential Palace

16:00 – Courtesy visit to the president

16:30 – Meeting with the state counsellor and minister of foreign affairs

17:15 – Meeting with the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps in the International Convention Centre – Address of the Holy Father

18:20 – Departure by air for Yangon

19:25 – Arrival at Yangon Airport and transfer to the archbishopric.


Pope Francis on Tuesday spent his first full day in Myanmar where he traveled to the country’s capital to meet with the country’s de facto civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. After meeting with her privately, she pronnounced an official welcome speech at the Myanmar International Convention Center where the Pope met with authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.

In her address to the Pope, Suu Kyi quoted from the Sermon on the Mount saying it presents a challenge for political and religious leaders and she mentioned that,“of the many challenges that our government has been facing, the situation in the Rakhine has most strongly captured the attention of the world”. (JFL: A reference to the plight of the Rohingya people whose name the Pope had been requested not to use during his trip, specifically by Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon)

She also said that the aim of the Myanmar Government is ”to bring out the beauty of our diversity and to make it our strength, by protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all”.

Following is her speech:

Holy Father Pope Francis,

Distinguished Guests,

It is a great joy and a great honour for me to welcome you to this gathering that reaffirms our faith in the power and possibility of peace and loving kindness. Let me begin by thanking His Holiness for being with us today. ‘Grazie per essere arrivato qui da noi’.

Your Holiness, you bring us strength and hope in your understanding of our need, our longing, for peace, national reconciliation and social harmony. Our national anthem, adopted at the time of our independence, begins with the words: “Never swerving from just freedom,” reflecting the strongly held conviction of the founding fathers of our nation that true freedom cannot survive without justice. These words resonate with us today, just as they did with those who fought for independence that our people might be able to realize their full potential. It is incumbent on us to continue the task of building a nation founded on laws and institutions that will guarantee each and everyone in our land justice, freedom and security. Thus, the words of Your Holiness that the prophets of old saw justice as the basis of all true and lasting peace “resonates with us, and serves as a reminder that in our quest for peace we must be guided by the wisdom and aspirations of our fathers.

Your Holiness, the challenges that Myanmar faces are many, and each challenge calls for strength, patience and courage. Our nation is a rich tapestry of different peoples, languages and religions, woven on a backdrop of vast natural potential. It is the aim of our Government to bring out the beauty of our diversity and to make it our strength, by protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all. Our most cherished endeavor is to carry forward the peace process based on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that was initiated by the previous Government. The road to peace is not always smooth but it is the only way that will lead our people to their dream of a just and prosperous land that will be their refuge, their pride, their joy. The quest for peace has to be reinforced by the attainment of sustainable development, that the future of coming generations might be assured.

Of the many challenges that our government has been facing, the situation in the Rakhine has most strongly captured the attention of the world. As we address long standing issues, social, economic and political, that have eroded trust and understanding, harmony and cooperation, between different communities in Rakhine, the support of our people and of good friends who only wish to see us succeed in our endeavours, has been invaluable. Your Holiness, the gifts of compassion and encouragement that you bring to us will be treasured and we take to heart your words in the message of the celebration of the fiftieth World Day of Peace on 1st January 2017:

“Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

        This is also a programme and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost.”

Your Holiness, we are proud and happy that you have come to our country a mere six months after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Myanmar. This is not only the opening of a new era of close relations, it also constitutes a revival of old ties that I, and others of my generation, remember with affection and appreciation. I began my education at the St. Francis Convent in Rangoon which makes me fancy that I am entitled to special blessings from your Holiness. But all the blessings you confer will be shared by all of us that we may be able to spread goodwill and joy throughout our land.

Your Holiness, each age in the life of a nation brings its own responsibilities just as it has to bear the legacies of the past. We today who have been given the opportunity to effect changes that could open new vistas of progress for our nation, will strive to discharge our duties with probity and humility. We wish to leave to the future a land that has been nurtured with care and respect, a healthy land, a beautiful land. We wish to leave to the future a people united and at peace, secure in their capacity to grow and prosper in a changing world; a compassionate and generous people, always ready to hold out a helping hand to those in need; a people strong in skills and whole in spirit.

Your Holiness, the children of your Church in this country are also the children of Myanmar, loved and cherished. We thank them, as we thank you, for praying for our nation and all the peoples of the world. The road ahead is long but we will walk it with confidence, trusting in the power of peace, love and joy.

Your Holiness,

‘Continuiamo a camminare insieme con fiducia’. (Let’s continue to walk together with trust)

I thank you all.


In his first public discourse on Myanmar soil on Tuesday, Pope Francis encouraged the nation on the “arduous process of peace-building and national reconciliation,” saying it can be achieved on only through a “commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” a process in which religious leaders have a crucial role to play.

The Pope made the remark to Myanmar’s state authorities, leaders of civil society and the diplomatic corps, after he was given a state welcome at the presidential palace in the country’s new capital Nay Pyi Taw, some 320 km north of the former capital Yangon, where the Pope landed on Monday and where he will spend the rest of his stay in Myanmar.

Peace founded on justice

‎Speaking in Italian, the Pope observed that according to age old wisdom, justice means a steadfast will to give ‎each person his due which forms the “basis of all true ‎and lasting peace.” The denial of this caused the “tragic experience of the two world wars,” the Pope said, that led to the establishment of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration ‎of Human ‎Rights as the basis for the international community’s efforts to promote ‎justice, peace and human ‎development worldwide, and to resolve conflicts ‎through dialogue, not the use of force. The Pope said the presence of the diplomatic corps before him confirms Myanmar’s commitment to uphold and pursue these foundational principles.

The Holy Father noted that the people of Myanmar have suffered much and continue to suffer from “civil conflict and hostilities that have ‎lasted ‎all ‎too long and created deep divisions.” The Pope said that in its task of restoring peace, “the healing of ‎those ‎wounds must be a paramount political and spiritual ‎priority.”

The Pope stressed that the future of the nation must be peace, a peace based on ‎respect for the dignity and rights of each member ‎of society, respect for each ‎ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for ‎a ‎democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – ‎to offer its ‎legitimate contribution to the common good.‎

Role of religious leaders

In this great task of national reconciliation and integration, the Pope said, Myanmar’s religious communities have a privileged role to play. He pointed out that “religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but ‎rather a force for unity, forgiveness, ‎tolerance and wise nation building.” He said religions can help repair “the emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds of those who ‎have ‎suffered in the years of conflict,” and “uproot the ‎causes of conflict, build bridges of dialogue, seek justice and be a ‎prophetic voice for all who suffer.” The Pope considered it a “great sign of hope” that leaders of the ‎various religious traditions in Myanmar are making efforts ‎to work together, in ‎a spirit of harmony and mutual respect, for peace, for helping the poor and ‎for ‎educating in authentic religious and human values. In seeking to build a culture ‎of encounter and ‎solidarity, they contribute to the common good and to laying the ‎indispensable moral foundations for a ‎future of hope and prosperity for coming ‎generations. ‎

Youth – future of Myanmar

Stressing that the future of Myanmar lies in the hands of young people, the Pope called on the nation to provide them with real opportunities for employment and a quality education, saying, it will be an investment that will yield a rich return, which is urgently needed for inter-generational justice. They need to be trained not only in technical fields but especially in ethical values, such as honesty, integrity and human solidarity that can consolidate democracy and the growth of unity and peace at every level. Intergenerational justice, the Pope pointed out, also demands that future ‎generations ‎inherit a natural environment unspoiled by human “greed and depredation.”

Pope Francis said that the main purpose of his visit to Myanmar was to “pray with ‎the nation’s small but fervent Catholic community, to confirm them ‎in their faith, ‎and to encourage them in their efforts to contribute to the good of the nation.”  He said he also wanted to embrace the entire population of Myanmar and ‎to offer a word of ‎encouragement to all those who are working to build a just, ‎reconciled and inclusive social order.