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Vatican releases pope's schedule for visit to Myanmar, Bangladesh

IMAGE: CNS photo/Soe Zeya Tun, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh will offer moments to recognize each nation's struggle for independence, underline interreligious respect and encourage the local minority Catholic communities.

Pope Francis will visit Myanmar Nov. 27-30, just months after the Holy See announced it had established full diplomatic relations with the southeast Asian nation. He will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The visit also comes as serious questions have been raised about her government's treatment of the Rohingya people, who are Muslim.

Pope Francis has appealed for their protection on several occasions, calling the Rohingya, "good people" who "are our brothers and sisters. They have been suffering for years. They have been tortured, killed, just because they want to keep their traditions and their Muslim faith."

Another highlight on the trip -- the pope's 21st trip abroad in his five-year pontificate -- will be meeting with the high-ranking Buddhist monks at the capital's peace pagoda.

According to the Vatican's latest statistics, Myanmar has about 659,000 Catholics out of a population of about 51 million.

The pope will visit the capital of Bangladesh Nov. 30-Dec. 2; he will ordain new priests and visit a Missionaries of Charity center for assisting poor children. 

According to Vatican statistics, there are about 375,000 Catholics in Bangladesh, about 0.3 percent of the population. The vast majority of people in the country are Muslims.

Here is the detailed schedule released by the Vatican. Times are local, with Eastern Standard Time in parentheses:

Sunday, Nov. 26 (Rome)

-- 9:40 p.m. (3:40 p.m.) Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport.

Monday, Nov. 27 (Yangon)

-- 1:30 p.m. (2 a.m.) Arrival at Yangon International Airport.

Tuesday, Nov. 28 (Yangon, Naypyitaw, Yangon)

-- 2 p.m. (2:30 a.m.) Departure by plane for Naypyitaw.

-- 3:10 p.m. (3:40 a.m.) Arrival at Naypyitaw airport.

-- 3:50 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace.

-- 4 p.m. (4:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit to Htin Kyaw, president of the republic, at the presidential palace.

-- 4:30 p.m. (5 a.m.) Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and foreign minister, the country's de-facto leader.

-- 5:15 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Meeting with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the city's international convention center. Speech by pope.

-- 6:20 p.m. (6:50 a.m.) Departure by plane for Yangon.

-- 7:25 p.m. (7:55 a.m.) Arrival at Yangon airport, transfer to archbishop's residence.

Wednesday, Nov. 29 (Yangon)

-- 9:30 a.m. (10 p.m. Nov. 28) Mass at Kyaikkasan sports ground. Homily by pope.

-- 4:15 p.m. (4:45 a.m.) Meeting with the Sangha supreme council of Buddhist monks at the Kaba Aye pagoda. Speech by pope.

-- 5:15 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Meeting with the bishops of Myanmar at St. Mary's Cathedral. Speech by pope.

Thursday, Nov. 30 (Yangon, Dhaka)

-- 10:15 a.m. (10:45 p.m. Nov. 29) Mass with young people in St. Mary's Cathedral. Homily by pope.

-- 12:45 p.m. (1:15 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Yangon International Airport.

-- 1:05 p.m. (1:35 a.m.) Departure by plane for Dhaka, Bangladesh.

-- 3 p.m. (4 a.m.) Arrival at Dhaka's international airport. Welcoming ceremony.

-- 4 p.m. (5 a.m.) Visit to national martyrs' memorial in town of Savar.

-- 4:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Pay homage to the late-Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, known as "father of the nation," at the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum.

-- 5:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit to President Abdul Hamid at the presidential palace.

-- 6 p.m. (7 a.m.) Meeting with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the presidential palace. Speech by pope.

Friday, Dec. 1 (Dhaka)

-- 10 a.m. (11 p.m. Nov. 30) Mass and ordination of priests in Suhrawardy Udyan park. Homily by pope.

-- 3:20 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Visit with the country's prime minister at the apostolic nunciature.

-- 4 p.m. (5 a.m.) Visit the city's cathedral.

-- 4:15 p.m. (5:15 a.m.) Meeting with Bangladesh's bishops at a residence for elderly priests. Speech by pope.

-- 5 p.m. (6 a.m.) Interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop's residence. Speech by pope.

Saturday, Dec. 2 (Dhaka, Rome)

-- 10 a.m. (11 p.m. Dec. 1) Private visit to the Mother Teresa House in the capital's Tejgaon neighborhood.

-- 10:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. Dec. 1) Meeting with priests, men and women religious, seminarians and novices at the Church of the Holy Rosary. Speech by pope.

-- 11:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.) Visit the parish cemetery and historic Church of the Holy Rosary.

-- 3:20 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Meeting with young people at Notre Dame College. Speech by pope.

-- 4:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Dhaka International Airport.

-- 5:05 p.m. (6:05 a.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.

-- 11 p.m. (5 p.m.) Arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport.

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Venezuelans with HIV make tough choices as medicine becomes scarce

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cody Weddle

By Cody Weddle

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNS) -- Gloria Gallardo, 59, and her granddaughter Diana Diaz, 14, woke before dawn for the two-hour bus ride into Caracas. Although they had made the journey hundreds of times before, this time felt different. They worried about the news they might receive from Diaz's doctors.

Normally chatty, today they mostly remained silent, with different scenarios running through their heads.

Diaz was born with HIV and hepatitis B and has lived with diabetes since she was 9. Several weeks earlier, she learned her antiretroviral drug, Viraday, might become the latest medication added to the growing list of medicines not available in the country. Further complicating her health, Diaz had lost 11 pounds because her unemployed grandmother could not afford to buy enough food.

In their home, pasta, rice, bread and condiments have all been eliminated in favor of yuca, pumpkin, plantain, and whatever other vegetables they can afford. The diet changes helped control Diaz' diabetes, which is good because stores did not have the medicine to control her blood sugar.

"The doctor said if she continued losing weight, they would take 'measures,'" said Gallardo. "Those 'measures' were that they would send her to a shelter."

Although Diaz had been given two alternative medications in case Viraday was not available, Gallardo did not know how that might affect her health. And neither knew what living a shelter might entail.

The night before their trip to Caracas, Gallardo heard that Viraday was not available in some places.

"It terrified me even more," she said.

During medical trips to Caracas, the two stay at Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza (Our Lady of Hope) house, run by the San Luis Home Foundation. The foundation offers lodging to mothers and children with HIV who live outside of the capital and travel to the city for medical treatment.

Giant teddy bears line the couches in the common area; a bookshelf is full of children's' books; and a large dining room can serve dozens. Mothers and their children sleep in dorm-like rooms with bunk beds.

The foundation provides food, transportation to and from medical appointments, and even pays for checkups in private clinics if needed. It operates solely on private donations.

Father Jose Luis Lofrano has managed the home since 2011.

"There was a serious problem here, that children with HIV came to the city, they couldn't stay, and they would leave without their medicine," he said.

He said he has seen how the conditions for those with chronic conditions like HIV have, in many cases, turned from worrisome to dire as the country endures its fourth year of an economic crisis.

Venezuela's economy has collapsed in recent years, with inflation projected this year to reach 720 percent. As oil prices have dropped, the government has run out of money to import many foods and medicines at affordable prices. Over 90 percent of the country's foreign revenues come from oil sales.

Many Venezuelans have cut back on the number of meals per day. One study showed that 75 percent of people in the country have lost an average of 19 pounds.

That means that many managing medical conditions like HIV must worry not only about their medication, but about putting food on the table.

"This is a vicious cycle," said Father Lofrano.

He explained how he has seen many of the families his foundation helps unsuccessfully try to juggle the various problems they face. This year he noticed some mothers living with HIV were selling their medications to buy food.

"She may have fixed the problem for a day, but in the long run, maybe in a few months, she will die," he said.

And that's what happened.

Four women who stay at the home with their children have died this year after stopping their HIV treatment. Two others who had previously been enrolled in the program also have died.

Father Lofrano said those mothers did not have much choice. They could either not feed their children or they could sell their treatment.

"We've had people who arrive at the home and faint from the hunger," he said. "The only good meal they had received in weeks was with us."

He also has seen HIV-positive mothers with infants decide to breastfeed their infants as a last resort after not finding baby formula. Their babies contracted the virus as a result.

Organizations like the San Luis Home Foundation that help HIV patients have struggled to keep up with the growing need.

For decades an HIV diagnosis meant a death sentence. But today the virus can be controlled by daily medication, and those with proper treatment can live a relatively normal life. Stopping treatment allows the virus to attack the body's immune system, and those with the condition can develop AIDS, leaving them susceptible to common infections that can turn fatal.

Aid for AIDS founder Jesus Aguais has sent HIV drugs to Venezuela since 1997. He warns that the situation in the country could start to resemble that of the '80s and '90s, before effective HIV medications had been developed, when many HIV patients developed AIDS and died.

While official numbers are not released, his group estimates that 80 percent of the 77,000 Venezuelans being treated for HIV have not had access to their medicine for the past nine months. Some doctors have said that figure could be around 40-50 percent.

Such people are "being mentally tortured," he said from his office in New York. "Knowing that you need a medication, and the government is supposed to give to you, and you don't know if you're going to get it. It's torture."

Numbers tracked by his group show that 2,100 people died of HIV-related causes in 2012. This year in one state alone, Carabobo, 1,600 people have died.

Aid for AIDS has stepped up its fundraising efforts to help those living with HIV. This year it hopes to send $4 million worth of medicines as well as baby formula for thousands of babies.

Aguais must find ways to sneak those supplies into the country. The government recently revoked the group's permit to donate medicine. Venezuelan officials have continually denied the country is suffering from a humanitarian crisis.

Aguais said he worries not only about HIV patients, but also about the broader public health concerns of having a large percentage of patients unmedicated. HIV patients who don't take their medication are much more likely to pass on the virus. Complicating the problem are shortages of the kits to detect the viral load and CD4 count, which indicates whether one has a healthy immune system.

That multitude of issues could result in a spike of new HIV infections in the country, where the last official figures estimated that 120,000 people could be living with the condition. Aguais believes that number could be far higher.

"We are talking about a catastrophe however you look at it," he said.

For now that catastrophe has not fully struck Gallardo and Diaz. Gallardo stared sternly at the hospital nurse attending the window at the children's hospital where she picked up Diaz's medicine.

"Vidaray," she said, passing the prescription under the metal bars separating her from the nurse.

She sighed as the nurse turned her back, clearly heading to the shelf to look for the medicine. They had it.

Also to their relief, Diaz had gained back a few pounds, which Gallardo credits to the help offered at the San Luis home. It was the only place they had been able to eat rice.

In one month, they'll need to look for another bottle of pills in Caracas. Gallardo will need to scrape together enough money to buy food so her granddaughter can continue to put on weight. Gallardo has lost 23 pounds.

At Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza, Father Lofrano and his team will keep tabs on Gallardo and Diaz as best they can.

"This is our second home," said Diaz as she sat on the couch surrounded by teddy bears. "Here, the doors are always open."

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Poverty, violence hinder progress for many women, girls, says nuncio

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz


UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Conditions in many parts of the world force women and girls to bear the burden of carrying out everyday chores for their families and communities, keeping many of them from getting even a basic education, the Vatican's U.N. nuncio said Oct. 6.

Females are often the victims of sexual and other violence, which prevents them from improving life for themselves and their families, said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations. Migrant women and girls are particularly vulnerable to these situations, he added.

He addressed the issue of women's advancement during a session at the United Nations of the Third Committee, which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

"Young women in rural areas are disproportionately involved in unpaid domestic work and especially bear the greatest burden when access to clean water and sanitation is not readily available," Archbishop Auza said. "They are forced to spend considerable time and effort collecting water for the community, and in doing so, their access to basic education is often thwarted, not to mention that, in many isolated places, they are also exposed to risks of violence."

Failure to achieve "that basic human right" of universal access to safe drinkable water "can undermine other human rights, as it is a prerequisite for their realization," he said.

Pope Francis in his encyclical "Laudato Si'" points to "the abandonment and neglect ' experienced by some rural populations which lack access to essential services," Archbishop Auza said, quoting the document. In many areas, the pope noted, "some workers are reduced to conditions of servitude, without rights or even the hope of a more dignified life."

Women and girls often bear "the heaviest burden from these deprivations," the archbishop said.

Regarding education, "significant progress has been made toward parity between boys and girls from families of relative wealth or decent economic standing," the archbishop said, but women and girls who live in poverty lack schooling, literacy skills and opportunities for adult education.

Adolescent girls "are at the greatest risk of exclusion from education due to social and economic hardships," Archbishop Auza said. "Whenever young women and girls do not have access to education, they are hindered from becoming dignified agents of their own development."

To change this reality, the "basic material needs of every school-age girl living in rural areas must be addressed," Archbishop Auza said. One initiative that has "proven efficient," he said, is providing school meals to reduce girls' absenteeism. Such efforts should be encouraged "to guarantee access to education to each and every girl," he added.

A current partnership between local farmers, including women, and the World Food Program of the United Nations to provide "homegrown school meals" in 37 countries is "a hopeful example," Archbishop Auza said. The effort "attends to the needs of girls and boys, fosters education and increases market access for women, all at the same time," he said.

Based in Rome, the World Food Program is the world's largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security. It provides food aid to an average of 80 million people in 76 countries each year.

Addressing the violence women and girls face, Archbishop Auza again quoted Pope Francis in saying that eliminating violence is impossible "until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed."

"Through poverty and exclusion, adolescent girls, especially those in rural areas, also experience heightened vulnerability to sexual exploitation, child marriage and other unacceptable forms of violence," the archbishop said. "The horrifying prevalence of violence against women, thus, remains a salient and sad example of the deep connection between economic exclusion and violence."

Archbishop Auza also discussed the current global migration crisis and its effect on migrant women and girls in particular, reminding the global community it has a responsibility "to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate" migrants and refugees.

"Millions of women and girls are fleeing violent conflicts or extreme poverty only to find themselves exploited by traffickers and manipulators along perilous routes and even in host communities," the archbishop said.

The Vatican's U.N. delegation, he said, "strongly supports the international community in its efforts to raise awareness and take concrete steps to prevent the abhorrent phenomenon of violence perpetrated against migrant women and girls."

"Women often heroically defend and protect their families, sacrificing much to achieve a better life for themselves and their children," Archbishop Auza said. "They deserve to be assisted and supported in order to realize their legitimate aspirations to a better life for themselves and for their loved ones."

He said the Vatican "remains strongly committed" to endeavors aimed "at truly protecting women's dignity, while promoting their integral development and advancement within the family and society."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at


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