Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass for the community of the faithful of Myanmar residents in Rome, at the Vatican, May 16, 2021.
Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass for the community of the faithful of Myanmar residents in Rome, at the Vatican, May 16, 2021.

VATICAN CITY - The people of Myanmar must not despair in the face of evil or allow themselves to be divided, Pope Francis said on Sunday at a special Mass for the Myanmar community in Italy.

Myanmar's military seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, derailing the country's tentative progress towards full democracy and triggering protests that have been met with a bloody crackdown.

Francis, who visited the Southeast Asian country in 2017, has repeatedly denounced the coup and on Sunday held a special service for the Myanmar faithful in St. Peter's Basilica.

"Your beloved country of Myanmar is experiencing violence, conflict and repression," the pope said in a toughly worded homily, urging the congregation to draw inspiration from the final hours of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion.

"He does not resign himself to evil, he does not let himself be overwhelmed by grief, he does not retreat into the bitterness of the defeated and disappointed," he said.

Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country and is home to fewer than 800,000 Roman Catholics.

Francis, who has been one of the most outspoken global leaders on the Myanmar crisis, said people should not lose their faith or hope "even in the dark night of grief, even when evil seems to have the upper hand."

He also urged the people of Myanmar not to yield to "the logic of hatred and vengeance", nor to compromise their values.

Unity was vital, he said.

Since grabbing power, the junta has struggled to govern.

Protests, strikes and a civil disobedience campaign have crippled businesses and the bureaucracy, while an armed resistance has also taken hold in the northwest of the country.

The military has said its takeover was aimed at protecting democracy after a November election that it said was marred by fraud. The electoral commission rejected the military's claims of irregularities.