Pope Francis called on Myanmar to adopt an inclusive ethnic and religious policy but did not mention the treatment of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.
In an address in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyitaw on Tuesday, the pope said the country should adopt a “democratic order that enables each individual and every group, none excluded, to offer its legitimate contribution.”
While he previously has been critical of the treatment, by Myanmar’s government and military, of the minority group, he did not mention the Rohingya by name in his speech. More than 600,000 Rohingya in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state have fled violence and mistreatment in the country for Bangladesh since August. The United States and the United Nations have identified the situation as an example of ethnic cleansing.
“Myanmar has been blessed with great natural beauty and resources, yet its greatest treasure is its people, who have suffered greatly, and continue to suffer, from civil conflict and hostilities that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions,” Pope Francis said in his address.
The pope arrived in Myanmar on Monday. Although Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist nation, nearly 700,000 Catholics are estimated to live there — comprising less than 1.5 percent of the population.
Cardinal Charles Bo, Myanmar’s senior Catholic official, has urged the pope not to focus on the Rohingya crisis while he is in Myanmar. Bo suggested that the pope not mention the ethnic group’s name to avoid supporting its assertion that it is an indigenous minority.
Myanmar government leader and Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi spoke after the pope’s remarks, acknowledging the “situation in the Rakhine,” saying it “has most strongly captured the attention of the world.”
She added that her government was dealing with “longstanding issues, social, economic and political, that have eroded trust and understanding, harmony and cooperation, between different communities in Rakhine.”
Earlier Tuesday, the pope met with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who has led the crackdown on the Rohingya population. The Vatican referred to the brief meeting as a courtesy visit, and said the pope and Hliang “spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country.”
By Ed Adamczyk