Sunday, 10 December, 2017

Pope Francis On Meeting Rohingya Refugees: 'I Wept'

Pope uses 'Rohingya' in Bangladesh after backlash over avoiding term in Myanmar Vatican defends Pope's avoidance of word Rohingya on historic Myanmar visit
Melissa Porter | 05 December, 2017, 14:43

On the last day of his three-day visit to Bangladesh, which came after meetings in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, the pope went to a home in Dhaka founded by Mother Teresa for orphans, unwed mothers and destitute elderly.

Pope Francis has said that he was well aware he was disappointing some people by not using the word "Rohingya" publicly in Burma, but his chief concern had been to get a point across, and he did.

Pope Francis' meeting with Rohingya refugees during his trip to Bangladesh has sparked anger in Myanmar after referring to them as "Rohingya".

Francis, the first Jesuit pope, has often warned of the damage gossip can do within the church and other religious institutions. "Your tragedy is very hard, very big", the Roman Catholic leader stated.

Pope Francis is welcomed by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo upon his arrival at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar.

"In the name of all those who have persecuted you, who have harmed you, in the face of the world's indifference, I ask for your forgiveness".

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 refugees had travelled so far and been through so much that Pope Francis said he could not just let them shake his hand and be whisked away, as some event organisers seemed to think was proper. "It is the first time that a great world leader has listened to us", 29-year-old Rohingya teacher Mohammad Zubair told AFP. But he did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state.

'I think the Pope's strategy for his visit to Bangladesh was to keep worldwide attention focused on the vast humanitarian crisis. and provide some inspiration for the Christians of Myanmar, ' he said.

Flying late Saturday, he recounted that he spoke frankly but privately in Myanmar about Rohingya refugees' plight and said he cried when he met some in Bangladesh, where they have fled a Myanmar military crackdown.

They have given consistent accounts of mass rape, killings and villages deliberately burned to the ground by soldiers and Buddhist militia. Francis waited until he arrived in neighbouring Bangladesh to demand the global community intervene to resolve the crisis and help Bangladesh cope with the influx of more than 620,000 refugees fleeing a military crackdown in Rakhine state.

"If I would have used the word, the door would have closed", he told reporters during his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome.

"When a people, a religion or a society turns into a "little world", they lose the best that they have and plunge into a self-righteous mentality of 'I am good and you are bad",' Francis said at the Notre Dame College, founded by Catholic priests.

Still, finally being able to meet some of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh was an emotional moment.