Pope Francis awaits rousing reception as he arrives this afternoon

Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, will arrive Dhaka this afternoon on a three-day state visit, aiming to promote peace and reconciliation.

A VVIP flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines carrying Pope will land at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at 3:00pm from Yangon, Myanmar.

President Abdul Hamid will receive the Pope. Then he will be given a 21-gun salute and highest state honour.

Pope Francis will visit National Martyrs’ Memorial in Savar from 4:00pm to 4:20pm where he will lay wreaths and sign visitors’ book and plant a sapling.

He will pay a visit to Bangabandhu Memorial Museum where he will lay wreath and sign visitors’ book between 5:00pm and 5:10pm.

From 5:30pm to 6:00pm, he will meet the president at Credentials Hall of Bangabhaban that includes a tête-à-tête introducing family members of the president and exchange of gifts.

From 6:00pm to 6:25am, Pope Francis will meet ministers, other dignitaries and the Diplomatic Corps.

Later, the president and the Pope will address them at the Darbar Hall of Bangabhaban.

From 6:25pm to 18:30pm, he will sign visitors’ book at the Credentials Hall of Bangabhaban.

Then he will leave for the Embassy of the Holy See here in the city’s Baridhara area around 7:00pm where he will stay during the visit.

Pope Francis will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at 3:20pm on Friday and will visit the Cathedral at 4:00pm.

He will hold a meeting with the Bishops of Bangladesh in the Home for retired priests.

On Friday, he would join a prayer service at Suhrawardy Udyan.

On Saturday, the Pope will have a private visit to Tejgaon Mother Theresa House and meet priests, religious and consecrated men and women in the Holy Rosary Church.

He will also visit to the Parish Cemetery and to the ancient Holy Rosary Church and meet the youth in Notre Dame College.

Pope Francis will leave for Rome at 5:05pm on Saturday after an official farewell at Dhaka airport.

A planned meeting with a small group of Rohingyas is expected to be a high point during the Pope’s Dhaka visit.

However, there is no mention of such meeting in the draft programme schedule of the Pope.

On Tuesday in Myanmar, Pope Francis insisted on Myanmar’s future depends on respecting the rights of each ethnic group, an indirect show of support for Rohingya Muslims who have been subject to decades of discrimination and a recent military crackdown described by the UN as a textbook campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”

Francis did not mention the crackdown or even utter the contested word “Rohingya” in his speech to Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other authorities and diplomats in the capital.

But he lamented how Myanmar’s people have suffered “and continue to suffer from civil conflict and hostilities,” and insisted that everyone who calls Myanmar home deserves to have their basic human rights and dignity guaranteed.

A papal visit is always historic for any nation, and this one at the invitation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Catholic Archbishop of Dhaka Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, was officially announced in Dhaka and the Vatican simultaneously with the same sense of occasion on August 28.

“As I prepare to visit Bangladesh, I wish to send a message of greeting and friendship to entire population. I look forward to the moment in which we shall be together,” he said in a message before leaving Rome for Myanmar.

Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario on Monday briefed the media about the preparation of Pope’s visit to Ramna Cathedral and said the theme of the visit is “peace and harmony”.

The organisers in Dhaka took preparations to bring a small group of Rohingyas to Dhaka with approval of the government.

“My visit is to confirm the Catholic community in Bangladesh in its faith and witness to the Gospel that recognises the dignity of every man and woman and calls us to open our hearts to others, especially to the poor and needy,” Pope said in his message.

“We live in times in which believers and men of goodwill in all places are called to promote reciprocal understanding and respect, and to sustain each other as members of one human family,” the message reads.

He said he knows there are many people in Bangladesh who are working hard to prepare for his visit and he thanked them.

“I ask each of you for prayers so that my days with you may be a source of hope and encouragement for all. Upon you and your families I invoke the divine blessings of joy and peace! See you before long!,” the message reads.