Published: Tue, December 05, 2017
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Pope Reveals Details About Army Chief Meeting and Defends Avoiding Word 'Rohingya'

Pope Reveals Details About Army Chief Meeting and Defends Avoiding Word 'Rohingya'

He referred to them as "Rohingya", a term unacceptable to many in Myanmar where they are reviled as "Bengali" illegal immigrants rather than as a distinct ethnic group.

The pope met Burma's military leaders privately on 27 November, shortly after his arrival in the nation's biggest city, Yangon.

Upon his arrival in Dhaka on Thursday, the pope demanded global community's "decisive measures" to resolve the Rohingya crisis, standing by Bangladesh at a civic reception at Bangabhaban after a meeting with the president.

Earlier Friday, Pope Francis ordained 16 priests at a huge outdoor Mass in the Bangladeshi capital. But he did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state.

Speaking to the congregation at the Chittagong's Holy Rosary Church, Francis said he was ditching the eight-page speech he had prepared and would speak to them from the heart instead.

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the Bangladeshi border just since August, joining hundreds of thousands already living in refugee camps there.

The Myanmar government has denied a systematic campaign against the Rohingya, saying the military has targeted only militant extremists.

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

It is true, he said, "I did not have the pleasure" of making "a public denunciation, but I had the satisfaction of dialoguing, allowing the other to have his say and, in that way, the message got across".

Francis said he was well aware of the criticism levelled at Suu Kyi for having failed to speak out enough, or soon enough about the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya. "I'm a sinner", he said. So he asked for a microphone and spoke about their God-given dignity and the obligation believers of all faiths have to stand up for them as brothers and sisters. "I am sure if the pope touches my head and prays for me, I'll be cured", Ananda Hira, a kidney patient who receives dialysis at the clinic, told AFP ahead of the visit.

Speaking to reporters en route home from Myanmar and Bangladesh, Francis said he was "very, very satisfied" that his message had been received in his private meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's powerful military chief, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. "They were crying, too".

The pope will hear first hand, from the woman and other Rohingya, the sort of accounts that have led to accusations from the United Nations that majority-Buddhist Myanmar has waged a policy of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority, including killings and rape.

Myanmar is at a "turning point" where it will be hard to move forward, he said, but it also would be hard to back away from change. Pope Francis is known for championing the rights of refugees and has repeatedly expressed support for the long- suffering Rohingya, describing them as his "brothers and sisters".

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