The Pope Uses the Word He Carefully Avoided in Myanmar: Rohingya

The pope has called for decisive measures to resolve the political reasons that caused the refugee crisis.

3 min read
The Pope Uses the Word He Carefully Avoided  in Myanmar: Rohingya

Pope Francis had an emotional meeting with Muslim refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh on Friday and used the word Rohingya to describe them for the first time on his Asian trip, calling for them to be respected.

Earlier this week the pope had visited Myanmar to address the Rohingya issue.

He also urged the world not to ignore refugees, persecuted minorities, the poor and vulnerable.

Refugees have said scores of Rohingya villages have been burnt to the ground, people killed and women raped. Myanmar's military has denied accusations of "ethnic cleansing" by the United States and United Nations.


Pope Francis’ Visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh

The pope had earlier in the week visited Myanmar, where he met its leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

But there he avoided using the word Rohingya, a term the authorities reject. Many people in Myanmar regard the largely stateless Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

At the Bangladesh meeting, however, he said: “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”

Addressing about 5,000 people at the gathering on the grounds of the Roman Catholic archbishop’s residence, The Pope said:

How much our world needs this heart to beat strongly, to counter the virus of political corruption, destructive religious ideologies, and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities, and those who are most vulnerable.
Pope Francis

Pope Francis Meets and Talks to Rohingya Refugees

Before the meeting, following the advice of Myanmar Church officials, he had not publicly used the word Rohingya to describe the refugees -- disappointing human rights groups and other prominent figures in the West who have condemned the repression.

Myanmar Church officials felt his use of the word could prompt a backlash against Christians and hurt Myanmar's fragile path to democracy.

Later, Aid workers brought 16 Rohingya refugees from camps in Cox's Bazar, about 430 km (260 miles) southeast of Dhaka on the border with Myanmar, to join other Muslims, as well as Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and charity workers.

The pope looked sombre as each member of the group, which included 12 men and four women, including two young girls, told him their stories through interpreters. Francis looked pained as he listened.

In the name of all those who persecute you, who have persecuted you, those who have hurt you, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask for forgiveness, forgiveness.
Pope Francis

One of the women refugees told Reuters before the meeting:

Myanmar military captured me and some other women, tortured us. I still bleed, there is pain in the abdomen, my back hurts, I get headaches. Medicines have not helped much and I will share my pain with him
Woman Refugee

Decisive Measures

In his address, Francis said:

Religious concern for the welfare of our neighbor, streaming from an open heart, flows outward like a vast river, to quench the dry and parched wastelands of hatred, corruption, poverty and violence that so damage human lives, tear families apart, and disfigure the gift of creation.
Pope Francis

The pope has called for decisive measures to resolve the political reasons that caused the refugee crisis and urged countries to help the Bangladesh government deal with it.

Earlier this year from the Vatican, the pope twice defended the Rohingya by name, once saying that they had been tortured, killed simply because they wanted to live their culture and their Muslim faith.

The Myanmar military launched the crackdown in response to Rohingya militant attacks on an army base and police posts in August and says it is a legitimate counter-insurgency operation.

(This article has been published in an arrangement with Reuters)

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