The dilemma of Pope Francis in Myanmar: if you say & # 39; Rohingya & # 39;


More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, which the Pope will visit after Myanmar, where they live in refugee camps awaiting a repatriation agreement between the two countries.

The Rohingya are, in short, exactly the kind of persecuted and oppressed people in the global periphery whose rights Francis has turned into his pastoral mission into champion and whose difficult situation has used his papal platform to elevate.

The trip to Myanmar would seem to present the Pope with an opportunity to reaffirm his status as the moral compbad of the world by condemning violence against the Rohingya. Many expect him to do exactly that.

But Cardinal Bo said that Francisco had caught the message. "He understands the situation better now," said Cardinal Bo.

The situation, so to speak, is a political, sectarian and religious minefield that some supporters of Francis worry about, poses a scenario with no way out, even for a politician as skilled as he is.

The Pope "runs the risk of endangering his moral authority or endangering the Christians of that country," the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, commissioner of the United States International Religious Freedom Commission, who listed Myanmar as one of the worst countries in that category, wrote this week in a column for the Religion News Service.


Catholic nuns during a ceremony in the Irrawaddy region in Myanmar. Around 700,000 Catholics live in the country, which represents approximately 1 percent of the total population.

Ye Aung Thu / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

"I have great admiration for the Pope and his abilities, but someone should have convinced him not to make this trip"

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Father Reese argued that the Pope's usual and admirable will to call injustice could put the Christian minority of the country in grave danger. Around 700,000 Roman Catholics live in Myanmar, accounting for just over 1 percent of the total population. There are also Baptist and Hindu Christians, but the vast majority in the country, around 90 percent, follow Theravada Buddhism, and the campaign against the Rohingya is tremendously popular.

On the other hand, Father Reese said of the Pope: "If you keep silent about the persecution of the Rohingya, lose moral credibility."

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a report last week that Rohingya "was not a forbidden word" and added that while the Pope takes Cardinal Bo's advice seriously: "we will see together" if the Pope use the word

"Let's say it's very interesting diplomatically," he said.

Many Buddhists consider the Rohingya, who have lived in Myanmar for generations and were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, intruders and terrorists. In October, Rohingya militants attacked and killed nine border officials, prompting an offensive that has shocked human rights activists around the world for their cruelty. If the pope seems to take sides with the Rohingya, he risks angering the extremist monks who have warned the pope to stay away.

"There is no Rohingya ethnic group in our country, but the Pope believes they are originally from here," said Ashin Wirathu, leader of a hardline Buddhist movement, Ma Ba Tha, to The News Times. in August.

The leader of Myanmar, Daw, already paid the cost of the reputation of silence on the persecution of the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, beloved rights activists over the years under house arrest, was elected in 2015 with the goal of putting Myanmar on the path to stable democracy and resolving disputes with the country's many armed ethnic groups. .

But the military maintained control of the national security infrastructure, and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi seems to have no power or voice to stop the attacks against the Rohingya.

Cardinal Bo, an ally of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, has argued that she remains the country's best hope for democracy and that the Pope, who is scheduled to meet with her on Tuesday in the capital, Naypyidaw He must show his support in the hope of giving him more influence to influence the army. [19659021] But, according to the Vatican, Cardinal Bo also suggested that Francisco meet with General Min Aung Hlaing, commander of the powerful armed forces of Myanmar and the architect of the so-called ethnic cleansing. The meeting on Thursday aims to ensure that the military leader does not feel forgotten, but also presents the Pope's greatest opportunity to have an impact on the humanitarian situation.

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As at his meeting in April with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, the Pope was reluctant to directly criticize political leaders in their own territory, rather than making broader comments.


A Rohingya refugee at the Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, this month. More than 600,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, which the Pope will also visit.

Adam Dean for The New York Times

"History does not forgive those who speak of equality, but discards those who are different," he said while standing next to Mr. Sisi.

But when it comes to ethnic cleansing, the Pope has been more open. In 2015, for example, he angered Turkey by describing the mbad murders of Armenians in the First World War as "genocide".

In March, Francis apologized for the participation of priests and nuns and the silence of church leaders in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. That silence was not unprecedented.

Pope Pius XII will always be a figure of controversy and, for many Catholics, shame, for his calculation that speaking out against the genocide of Jews during World War II would risk the lives of Catholics.

In Myanmar, Francisco will seek meetings with the persecuted. On Tuesday, he will meet with representatives of religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians and what Mr. Burke, a Vatican spokesman, called a "small group" of Rohingya refugees.

On Thursday, the Pope will go to Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have sought safety. Some will meet with the Pope that day in Dhaka, the capital.

But the experts in the church are urging the Pope to be careful what he calls.

The Reverend Bernardo Cervellera, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and editor of AsiaNews, a Rome-based organization that closely follows the church in Asia, said that previous use of Pope Rohingya made Christians in Myanmar "They were very worried."

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"They were afraid for him," Father Cervellera said. "They told us:" If you come to Myanmar, there may be some problem, there may be a strong reaction against him ".

Father Cervellera also said he believed that the use of the word could be placed in the hands of Muslim extremists, including Al Qaeda, who he said had started a holy war to save the Rohingya.

"The word is politicized and monopolized by an Islamic idea," Father Cervellera said, adding that the military was carrying out an ethnic cleansing of all minorities in the region. "But the world only talks about Rohingya," he said.

The question remains whether, and how, the Pope will do it.

After presenting his case to the pontiff, even Cardinal Bo tried to soften the blow. Francis speaks the name of the Rohingya.

"If the Pope mentioned it, it would not mean anything related to politics," such as extending citizenship, said Cardinal Bo. "He will not interfere with that." It will simply say that you are concerned about people who are suffering. "

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