DHAKA (Reuters) – Pope Francis visited a home in Dhaka founded by Mother Teresa for orphans, unwed mothers and destitute elderly on Saturday as he wrapped up his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The pope, who leaves for Rome later on Saturday, was surrounded by children and nuns wearing the traditional blue-and-white habit of the woman who died in 1997 and became a saint in 2016.
Mother Teresa, who started the Missionaries of Charity to serve “the poorest of the poor,” opened the home in the early 1970s to look after Bengali women who became pregnant as a result of rape by Pakistani soldiers during the war of independence.
Today the home, in one of the world’s poorest cities, looks after orphaned and abandoned children, unwed mothers and sick elderly people.
Francis, who has made outreach to the poor and other people on the margins of society a priority, visited some of the bed-ridden sick.
He later made an impromptu address to nuns and priests during which he praised Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country where Catholics make up less than one percent of its around 169 million people, for having what he called some of the best inter-religious relations in the world.
Francis said he was very pleased by an inter-religious meeting on Friday night, where he held an emotional encounter with Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and then used the word Rohingya for the first time on his current trip, saying they had God within them and should be respected.
Previously, in Myanmar, he followed the advice of Myanmar Church officials who said his use of the word could prompt a backlash against Christians and hurt Myanmar’s fragile path to democracy.
That had disappointed rights groups such as Amnesty International.
Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar does not recognize the stateless Rohingya as an ethnic group with its own identity.
At the Saturday morning meeting at the home founded by Mother Teresa, the pope urged the priests and nuns who live in communities to avoid gossip, calling it a form of “terrorism,” a comparison he has made often in the past while visiting religious communities.
His last event in Bangladesh will be a meeting with young people at a college founded by Catholic priests after the war of independence in the early 1970s left the new country with a dearth of places of higher education.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Michael Perry