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The Pope in Myanmar: Do Not Say “Rohingya”

November 29, 2017
Plain English Version

Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, right, with Pope Francis. Credit Vincenzo Pinto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Pope Frances is in Myanmar (Burma). His goal is to bring his message of faith and peace to the people.

Rakhine is a state in Myanmar. It is or was the home of the Rohingya people. They are Muslims in a country of Buddhists. They have been in Myanmar for generations.

Bangladesh is a Muslim country next door to Myanmar. In recent months, thousands of the Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. Conditions in the Bangladesh refugee camp border on inhumane. There is little food, shelter, health care or schools.

Both the United Nations and the United States called the ouster of the Rohingya from Myanmar a form of 'ethnic cleansing.'

Myanmar’s political leader is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a Nobel Peace Prize for her opposition to the country’s military rulers. The military said it would share power with her. She won election as president in 2015. The military generals said she could be in charge of civilian affairs.

When the military began to drive out the Rohingya, the world looked to Daw Aung San Suu Ky. Would she be a voice for these persecuted people? The answer was no. To do so could mean her removal from office. Of course many outside of Myanmar condemned her for not supporting the Rohingya people.

Myanmar and surrounding nations.

Now Pope Francis was coming to Myanmar. One reason was to visit the Catholic one percent of the nation. The other reason for the visit was to do what he has done in many other countries. He preaches peace.

It is a powerful message. Catholics and people all over the world believe Pope Francis is a man of God and goodwill.

But Myanmar poses a problem. It is the policy in Myanmar to hate the Rohingya. Catholic leaders in the country and Vatican officials had a message for the Pope. Preach peace, love, faith, fairness, and charity – all the things you believe in. But, they caution, do not say the word “Rohingya.”

In speeches and greetings, the Pope did what he does so well. But he did not use the word “Rohingya.”

Pope Francis is a moral leader. Not pointing out the plight of the Rohingya presents a moral dilemma. But sometimes politics trumps morality. Had the Pope said the word, the well being of Myanmar Catholics could be in danger. He would be offending his hosts. He would have started a huge controversy. He made a political decision to not mention the word.

His decision is easy to second-guess. Ignoring ethnic cleansing is hard. No matter which way he went, the Pope knew he would face criticism.

The Pope will be going on to Bangladesh, where he will meet with the Rohingya refugees.

Source: The New York Times November 28, 2017


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