Pope Francis Avoided Using the Term Rohingya
Pope Francis did not utter the word ‘Rohingya’ by name during any point of an important speech after he met Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader. The chief of Roman Catholics all over the world urged respect for each identity and ethnic group along with reconciliation. Suu Kyi, standing beside him, also spoke in predominantly general terms.
The pope gave a speech after Suu Kyi gave hers. He expressed anguish on how the Myanmarese have suffered and also continues to suffer due to hostilities and civil conflicts. He said that the conflict has created divisions and lasted for an exceedingly long time. The pontiff continued on to say that the future of Myanmar should be based on rights and also the dignity of every citizen, irrespective of that person’s identity and ethnic group.
The pope said that the tough process of national reconciliation and peacebuilding can only be achieved through a commitment to respect for all human rights and justice. He added that differences in religion need not be a source of distrust and division. It could also be a force for toleration and forgiveness. It may even help to build the nation.
The pope was welcomed by thousands of Catholics upon his arrival in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. The start of his November 17 trip was one of trepidation and sensitivity on how he would address the plight affecting the Muslim Rohingyas. The Myanmar army chief informed the pope that his country has zero religious discrimination. The military was also shown in a good light, with army chiefs claiming that it does tasks which only maintains the stability and peace of Myanmar.
Pope Francis has spoken earlier about the plight of the Rohingyas. He appealed to them from the Vatican twice in 2017, terming them Rohingya sisters and brothers. He is staying with Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the archbishop of Naypyidaw. The latter has reputedly advised the pontiff not to utter or use the word in his speeches or on official correspondence.
This is as the word ‘Rohingya’ is a contested one. The word is unacceptable to the Myanmar Government, military and even to the Myanmarese. The country has approximately 650,000 Catholics out of a population of 51 million people. The government has hired trains to transport Christians resident in the northern Kachin state to the capital city.