Pope Francis uttered the term, “Rohingya” in Bangladesh which he carefully avoided using in Myanmar, while addressing Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority during his Asia trip.
"The presence of God today is also called Rohingya," the Pope said after speaking to an interfaith audience in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.
After speculations revolving around the question if Pope would use the term “Rohingya” to describe the country’s Muslim minority that has been the target of a brutal military “clearance operation” or not, he avoided using the term while he was in Myanmar following advises of church officials who feared this could be dangerous to the country’s Christian minority.
In his speech to the Bangladeshi President Abdul Hamid and diplomats hours after arriving under heavy security in Dhaka, Francis ignored using the term “Rohingya” and instead spoke of “refugees from Rakhine State.”
Rohingya Muslims are not officially recognized as a minority in Myanmar, even though they have been living in the country for generations.
Francis soon drew the ire of international human rights groups who criticized him for losing moral credibility, and ignoring human rights violations in the country. Amnesty International said they were disappointed he did not defend them by name.
An estimated of more than 600,000 people have fled to Bangladesh to set themselves free from a ruthless government-sanctioned campaign of killing, rape and arson. United Nations officials and international human rights groups have described the plight of the Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing.”
The Pope, who is otherwise known for calling injustice, was disappointing in choosing not to say the eight letter word that is contested by the Yangon government and military.
He took a completely different approach after facing stark criticism and used the term on his visit to Bangladesh. He met with 16 Rohingya — 12 men, two women and two young girls — who had trekked to Dhaka from an area bordering Myanmar where more than 620,000 are living in refugee camps.
Francis met them one by one giving them his blessings after listening to their tragic stories.
"Your tragedy is very hard, very big. We give you space in our hearts," the Pope said. "In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, those who hurt you, and especially of the world's indifference, I ask for your forgiveness. Forgive us."
"Many of you talked to me about the great heart of Bangladesh, which offered you refuge. Now I appeal to your heart to give us the forgiveness we are asking from you," he told the group of refugees after meeting them.
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: Reuters, Mohammad Ponir Hussain