June 23, 2018

Pope's much anticipated visit to Myanmar, Bangladesh

05 December 2017, 08:54 | Winifred Adams

Pope Francis places his hand on a Rohingya orphan girl

Pope Francis places his hand on a Rohingya orphan girl

"I knew that if, in an official speech, I would have used the word, they would close the door in my face", the pope told reporters who asked why he did not name the group.

"When I saw the message was accepted, I dared to say everything I wanted to say", he said by using a Latin phrase meaning 'few words are enough for the one who understands'. But he did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state.

The country does not recognise the stateless Rohingya as an ethnic group with its own identity and considers them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

A deadly attack by Rohingya militants on police posts in late August sparked a ferocious crackdown in Rakhine State by the Myanmar military, which the USA and United Nations describe as "ethnic cleansing". The usually forthright pontiff walked a diplomatic tightrope during his four days in Myanmar - the first papal visit to the country - avoiding any direct reference to the Rohingya in public while appealing to Buddhist leaders to overcome "prejudice and hatred".

This photo combo of two images show Pope John Paul II riding in a three-wheeled bicycle rickshaw at the Vatican Mission in Dhaka, Bangladesh, during his one-day visit to the city, on November 19, 1986, on left and Pope Francis riding a traditional Bangladesh rickshaw as he arrives at an interfaith and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop's residence, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

The refugees had traveled 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 organizers seemed to think was proper.

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"I was very, very satisfied with the talks that I was able to have because it's true I haven't had the pleasure of throwing the door in a face publicly with a denunciation, but I did have the satisfaction of dialoguing and letting the other speak and in that way the message arrived". I yelled a bit. "I tried not to show it".

Listening to them was emotional, he said, and "I couldn't let them leave without saying something" to them. Francis said they deserved to hear something from him directly, and so he asked for a microphone and spoke from the heart. He also apologized for all they had suffered.

It was the chief of Myanmar's powerful military Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who has been internationally accused of his army's human rights abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

Pope Francis is welcomed at Yangon International Airport, Myanmar. Pope Francis responded that people must take into account the challenges that are part of Myanmar's transition from military rule to democracy.

And, he said, "I never lose hope".

A Rohingya refugee man wipes his eyes, as he waits to meet Pope Francis, during an inter-religious conference at St. Mary's Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh December 1, 2017.

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