Dhaka, Home for Retired Priests Friday, 1 December 2017 Your Eminence, Dear Brother Bishops, How good it is for us to be together! I thank Cardinal Patrick [D’Rozario] for his words of introduction, which presented the varied spiritual and pastoral works of the Church in Bangladesh. I particularly appreciated his reference to the farsighted Pastoral Plan of 1985, which laid out the evangelical principles and priorities that have guided the life and mission of the ecclesial community in this young nation. My own experience of Aparecida, which launched the continental mission in South America, has convinced me of the fruitfulness of such plans, which engage the entire people of God in an ongoing process of discernment and action. The reality of communion was at the heart of the Pastoral Plan, and it continues to inspire the missionary zeal that distinguishes the Church in Bangladesh. Your own episcopal leadership has traditionally been marked by a spirit of collegiality and mutual support. This spirit of affective collegiality is shared by your priests, and through them, has spread to the parishes, communities and manifold apostolates of your local Churches. It finds expression in the seriousness with which you, in your dioceses, engage in pastoral visitations and demonstrate practical concern for the welfare of your people. I ask you to persevere in this ministry of presence, which can only strengthen the bonds of communion uniting you to your priests, who are your brothers, sons and co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, and to the men and women religious who make so crucial a contribution to Catholic life in this country. At the same time, I would ask you to show ever greater pastoral closeness to the lay faithful. There is a need to promote their effective participation in the life of your particular Churches, not least through the canonical structures that provide for their voices to be heard and their experiences acknowledged. Recognize and value the charisms of lay men and women, and encourage them to put their gifts at the service of the Church and of society as a whole. I think here of the many dedicated catechists in this country, whose apostolate is essential for the growth of the faith and for the Christian formation of the next generation. They are true missionaries and leaders of prayer, especially in the more remote areas. Be concerned for their spiritual needs and for their continuing education in the faith. In these months of preparation for the next assembly of the Synod of Bishops, all of us are challenged to think about how best to share with our young people the joy, the truth and the beauty of our faith. Bangladesh has been blessed with vocations to the priesthood and the religious life; it is important to ensure that candidates be well-prepared to communicate the richness of the faith to others, particularly to their own contemporaries. In a spirit of communion that bridges the generations, help them to take up with joy and enthusiasm the work others have begun, knowing that they themselves will one day be called to pass it on in turn. An impressive outreach of the Church in Bangladesh is directed to assisting families and, in a specific way, working for the advancement of women. The people of this country are known for their love of family, their sense of hospitality, the respect they show to parents and grandparents, and the care they give to the aged, the infirm and the vulnerable. These values are confirmed and elevated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A special word of gratitude is due to all those who work quietly to support Christian families in their mission of bearing daily witness to the Lord’s reconciling love and in making known its redemptive power. As Ecclesia in Asia pointed out, “the family is not simply the object of the Church’s pastoral care; it is one of the Church’s most effective agents of evangelization” (No. 46). A significant goal set out in the Pastoral Plan, and one that has indeed proved prophetic, is the option for the poor. The Catholic community in Bangladesh can be proud of its history of service to the poor, especially in remote areas and tribal communities; it continues this outreach daily through its educational apostolates, its hospitals, clinics and health centres, and the variety of its organized charitable works. Yet, especially in light of the present refugee crisis, we see how much more needs to be done! The inspiration for your works of assistance to the needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time. By working to create a “culture of mercy” (cf. Misericordia et Misera, 20), your local Churches demonstrate their option for the poor, reinforce their proclamation of the Father’s infinite mercy, and contribute in no small measure to the integral development of their homeland. An important part of my pastoral visit to Bangladesh is the interreligious and ecumenical encounter that will take place immediately following our meeting. Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored in a diversity of religious traditions. The Church’s commitment to pursuing interreligious understanding through seminars and educational programmes, as well as through personal contacts and invitations, contributes to the spread of good will and harmony. Work unremittingly to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual energies needed for the work of nationbuilding in unity, justice and peace. When religious leaders speak out with one voice against the violence that parades as religion and seek to replace the culture of conflict with the culture of encounter, they draw from the deepest spiritual roots of their various traditions. They also provide an inestimable service to the future of their countries and our world by educating the young in the way of justice, “helping them along the path to maturity, and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness” (Address to the International Peace Conference, Al-Azhar, Cairo, 28 April 2017). Dear brother bishops, I am grateful to the Lord for these moments of conversation and fraternal sharing. I am also happy that this Apostolic Journey, which has brought me to Bangladesh, has enabled me to witness the vitality and missionary fervour of the Church in this country. In offering up the joys and difficulties of your local communities to the Lord, let us together ask for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to grant us “the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness – parrhesía – in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition” (Evangelii Gaudium, 259). May the priests, religious, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, find ever renewed strength in their efforts to be “evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (ibid.). To all of you, with great affection, I impart my Apostolic Blessing. I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me.