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Pope Francis Refers to 'Rohingya' in Bangladesh

  • VOA News

Pope Francis arrives on a cycle rickshaw at an event to meet representatives of different religions in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

Pope Francis asked for forgiveness from Rohingya Muslim refugees for all of their suffering Friday, using the politically sensitive term "Rohingya" to describe the persecuted - a term he had not uttered during his trip that started in Myanmar.

"The presence of God today is also called Rohingya," he said after meeting refugees brought to the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka from Cox's Bazaar, where where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have settled after fleeing violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

The pontiff greeted and blessed a group of Rohingya refugees during an emotional meeting in which he held their hands and listened to their stories, asking them for forgiveness on behalf of those who persecuted and hurt them.

Earlier Friday, Pope Francis ordained 16 priests Friday at a huge outdoor Mass in the Bangladeshi capital. An estimated 100,000 people attended the Mass in Dhaka's Suhrawardy Udyan Park.

Pope Francis greets believers as he arrives for a mass in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 1, 2017.
Pope Francis greets believers as he arrives for a mass in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 1, 2017.

Before visiting Bangladesh, the pontiff spent four days in neighboring Myanmar, where he had been criticized by human rights activists for not specifically mentioning the Rohingya while in Myanmar.

The Rohingya are a minority ethnic group that has been denied basic rights for decades in the majority Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which views them as immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Their situation has worsened since August, when the military launched a scorched earth campaign against Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine state in response to attacks on Myanmar police outposts on Rohingya militants. The campaign, including reports of mass rapes and indiscriminate killings, triggered a mass exodus of more than 620,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, which the United Nations has described as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

The pope has denounced the treatment of the Rohingya in previous public remarks, but his advisers counseled him not to speak about the issue while in Myanmar, for fear of a backlash against the 650,000 Catholics in the country.

Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait squashed against each other to receive food handouts distributed to children and women by a Turkish aid agency at the Thaingkhali refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh, Nov. 14, 2017.
Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait squashed against each other to receive food handouts distributed to children and women by a Turkish aid agency at the Thaingkhali refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh, Nov. 14, 2017.

Myanmar Bishop John Hsane Hgyi went even further Wednesday, casting doubt about the reported atrocities against the Rohingya, and urging critics of the Myanmar government to go to the scene "to study the reality and history" of the issue and learn the truth.

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.

Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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