Pope Francis has arrived in Myanmar to meet with the civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Francis will address Suu Kyi and other Myanmar authorities and the diplomatic corps in Naypyitaw. It remains to be seen, how Francis bridges the local Catholic concerns with his legacy of speaking out for oppressed minorities in his speech in Naypyitaw.
It must be noted the operation launched against Rohingya in August has been widely condemned and the U.S. and U.N. have described as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” to drive out the Rohingya from northern Rakhine state.
More than 620,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh following the crackdown. Entire villages were burned and looted, and women and girls were raped in Rakhine state.
Pope’s meeting with the commander responsible for the crackdown, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, and three members of the bureau of special operations hours after arriving yesterday has sparked an outcry.
Myanmar a predominantly Buddhist country has been denying citizenship to Rohingya Muslims since 1982. They were denied almost all rights and were rendered stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.
As reported by Deccan Herald, Myanmar’s Catholic Church has publicly urged Francis to avoid saying “Rohingya,” a term shunned by many here because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country. And they have urged him to toe a delicate line in condemning the violence, given the potential for blowback against Myanmar’s tiny Catholic community.
It must be recalled that Francis has previously prayed for “our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” lamented their suffering and called for them to enjoy full rights. Hence whether he would again express solidarity with the Rohingya is the key to watch.