ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BANGLADESH (CNS) — Well aware he was disappointing some people by not using the word “Rohingya” publicly in Myanmar, Pope Francis said his chief concern had been to get a point across, and he did.
“If I would have used the word, the door would have closed,” he told reporters Dec. 2 during his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome.
He spent almost an hour answering reporters’ questions after his six-day trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, but insisted that most of the questions be about the trip.
In his speeches in Myanmar, Pope Francis repeatedly referred to the obligation to defend the lives and human rights of all people. But he did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state. The Myanmar military, claiming it is cracking down on militants, has been accused of a massive persecution of the Rohingya to the point that some describe it as “ethnic cleansing.”
More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the Bangladeshi border just since August, joining hundreds of thousands already living in refugee camps there.
For the government of Myanmar, the Rohingya do not exist; instead they are considered undocumented immigrants.
“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. However, “I described the situation” publicly, knowing “I could go further in the private meetings” with government officials.
“I was very, very satisfied with the meetings,” the pope said. “I dared to say everything I wanted to say.”
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.”
Still, finally being able to meet some of the Rohingya refugees Dec. 1 in Bangladesh was an emotional moment.
Arrangements were made for 16 refugees to travel to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, where the huge refugee camps are, so they could join the pope and Bangladeshi religious leaders for a meeting devoted to peace.
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.
“And there I got upset. I yelled a bit. I’m a sinner,” he said.
He had a few minutes with each of them, listening to their stories with the help of an interpreter, holding their hands and looking into their eyes.
“I was crying, but tried to hide it,” the pope told reporters. “They were crying, too.”
Listening to them was emotional, he said, and “I couldn’t let them leave without saying something” to them. 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. He also apologized for all they had suffered.
Pope Francis refused to give reporters details about his private meetings with government officials and military leaders in Myanmar, but insisted they were marked by “civilized dialogue” and he was able to make the points important to him.
The pope was asked what he thought of recent criticism by human rights groups of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of Myanmar’s civilian government, over her handling of the Rohingya crisis. Pope Francis responded that people must take into account the challenges that are part of Myanmar’s transition from military rule to democracy.
Myanmar is at a “turning point” where it will be difficult to move forward, he said, but it also would be difficult to back away from change.
And, he said, “I never lose hope.”
The same God who made the meeting with the Rohingya in Dhaka possible will continue to work marvels, Pope Francis said.
In a time of crisis CatholicPhilly.com keeps the information flowing
During the current coronavirus crisis, you can help CatholicPhilly.com deliver the kind of news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live ― every day.
Budgets are tight at this time, and CatholicPhilly's is no different than those of most families. We make sure your donation in any amount will go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103