Pope says he ‘wept’ while meeting Rohingya refugees

- Agence France-Presse, VATICAN CITY

Dec 4, 2017-

Pope Francis has said he wept hearing the plight first-hand of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, adding that this meeting was a condition set for his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The Rohingya meeting was a highly symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Muslim minority fleeing violence in Myanmar, and the pontiff told journalists on his plane flying back to Rome that the refugees cried as well.

“I knew that I was going to meet the Rohingyas but I did not know where and how, for me it was one of the conditions of the trip,” he said on Saturday.

The usually forthright pontiff walked a diplomatic tightrope during his four days in Myanmar — the first papal visit to the country — avoiding any direct reference to the Rohingya in public while appealing to Buddhist leaders to overcome “prejudice and hatred”.

In Bangladesh he addressed the issue head-on, meeting a group of Rohingya refugees from the squalid camps in southern Bangladesh in an emotional encounter in Dhaka. “What Bangladesh has done for them is enormous, it’s an example of welcome,” he said. “I wept, I tried to do it in a way that it couldn’t be seen,” he said. “They wept too. I told myself ‘I cannot leave without saying a word to them’”. 

The pope told the Rohingya: “In the name of all those who have persecuted you, who have harmed you, in the face of the world’s indifference, I ask for your forgiveness.”

The pope referred to the refugees as Rohingya, using the term for the first time on the tour in Bangladesh after the archbishop of Yangon advised him that doing so in Myanmar could inflame tensions and endanger Christians. 

The word is politically sensitive in mainly Buddhist Myanmar because many there do not consider the Rohingya a distinct ethnic group, regarding them instead as interlopers from Bangladesh.

Published: 04-12-2017 09:16

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