Published: Tue, November 28, 2017
People | By Neil Grant

Why The World Is Waiting To Hear If The Pope Says 'Rohingya'

Why The World Is Waiting To Hear If The Pope Says 'Rohingya'

He said the visit was organised long before the Rohingya crisis unfolded between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

"We are nearly done with the process", he said about the process of securing permission from the government.

Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens nor as members of a distinct ethnic group with their own identity, and it even rejects the term "Rohingya" and its use.

Upon arrival in Yangon, the pope was greeted by local Catholic officials and his motorcade passed by thousands of Myanmar's Catholics, who lined the roads, wearing traditional attire and playing music.

He added that the papal visit came due to the political openness of Myanmar which is part of the nation's moving forward to full democracy.

He waved through an open window at dozens of children waving Vatican and Myanmar flags and wearing T-shirts with the motto of the trip, "love and peace", as he set off in a vehicle.

Sister Bambina, a nun from St. Joseph of the Apparition congregation in Yangon, said she was so excited over the pope's visit that she can't express how joyful she feels.

Pope Francis meets Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Image The pontiff urged respect 'for each ethnicity and its identity'

This poses a dilemma for Francis as he visits a country of 51 million people where only about 700,000 are Roman Catholics.

But despite the decades of internal strife, it is the recent exodus of more than 620,000 Muslim Rohingya people from northern Rakhine State and what the pope decides to publicly say about them that has grabbed the world's attention.

The pope has used the word, Rohingya, in previous speeches but has been advised by the church's sole Catholic cardinal in Myanmar to forgo using the term, so as not to stir up violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where Catholics make up approximately 1 percent of the total population.

Myanmar was ruled by a junta for five decades until a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi came to power previous year.

The Myanmar authorities characterize the same people as Bengali and say they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, so they should not be registered as a ethnic group in the country.

In the midst of the conflict, the pope will meet with Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's military leadership as well as Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh during his six-day visit, which ends on Saturday.

The news of the visit has already drawn ire from Buddhist nationalists as they said that his visit was politically instigated.

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