Published: Tue, December 05, 2017
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Pope's much anticipated visit to Myanmar, Bangladesh

Pope's much anticipated visit to Myanmar, Bangladesh

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

In his speeches in Myanmar, Pope Francis repeatedly referred to the obligation to defend the lives and human rights of all people.

Francis said he was very pleased by an inter-religious meeting on Friday night, where he had an emotional meeting with refugees from Myanmar and then used the word Rohingya for the first time on his current trip, saying they had God within them and should be respected.

"If I would have used the word, the door would have closed", he told reporters December 2 during his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome.

In calls for peace in Myanmar, he did not use the word Rohingya to describe members of the Muslim minority.

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 latest exodus from Burma to Bangladesh of about 625,000 people followed a Burmese military crackdown in response to Rohingya militant attacks on an army base and police posts on 25 August.

Tears run down the face of Rohingya refugees as they pray during their meeting with Pope Francis in Dhaka.

Myanmar's military has denied the allegations.

Speaking to the congregation at the Chittagong's Holy Rosary Church, Francis said he was ditching the eight-page speech he had prepared and would speak to them from the heart instead.

As the Pope said, he didn't have the pleasure of slamming the door in their face publicly with a denunciation but had the satisfaction of dialogue, which was in a way more effective.

Francis said he was well aware of the criticism levelled at Suu Kyi for having failed to speak out enough, or soon enough about the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya. "I want my torturers to be punished", she said. "I tried not to show it". "They were crying, too".

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Wednesday that Pope Francis has not lost his "moral authority" on the issue, and suggested he may have been far more direct during his private talks with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and powerful military chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Pope Francis is welcomed at Yangon International Airport, Myanmar.

Myanmar is at a "turning point" where it will be hard to move forward, he said, but it also would be hard to back away from change.

One refugee expressed gratitude that the pope had finally uttered the word Rohingya, and said he believed the meeting would have a big impact.

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