Pope Francis has completed his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh. The citizens are mainly Buddhist and Muslim. Pope Francis didn’t go to convert them, but he gave witness to a Christian proclamation of unity and peace.
The pope entered a diplomatic dilemma in Myanmar. He was urged by human rights activists to condemn the murder, rape and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military. Hundreds of villages in Rakhine state were burned, and over half a million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.
The Buddhist majority see the Rohingya as illegal aliens who are a threat to their nation. The military denies any persecution is taking place; however, hundreds of villages in Rakhine state have been burned by the military and over half a million Rohingya fled as refugees to Bangladesh.
Commentator Rev Thomas Reese, SJ, questioned the wisdom of Pope Francis visiting Myanmar before the visit, but he lauded the pope after. He wrote: “It is hard to be both a diplomat and a prophet, but Pope Francis pulls it off better than anyone else.”
While the pope did not mention the Rohingya by name in Myanmar, he did so in Bangladesh. There he met 16 Rohingya refugees — 12 men and four women — and insisted on meeting each one individually. Then he addressed the group off-the-cuff. His remarks deserve a full hearing:
“Dear brothers and sisters, we are all close to you. There’s not much that we can do because your tragedy is so great. But we make space for you in our hearts. In the name of all, of those who’ve persecuted you, of those who’ve done this evil, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness. Forgiveness. Many of you have spoken of the great heart of Bangladesh which has welcomed you. Now I appeal to your great hearts, that you might be able to give us the forgiveness we seek.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the Judaeo-Christian account of creation says that the Lord who is God created man in his own image and likeness. All of us are this image, even these brothers and sisters. They, too, are the image of the living God. A tradition of your religions says that God, in the beginning, took a little bit of salt and tossed it into water, that was the soul of all people; and each of us carries within ourselves a little of this divine salt. These brothers and sisters carry within them the salt of God.
“Dear brothers and sisters, we only have to look at the world to see its selfishness with the image of God. Let us continue to do good by you, to help you; let us continue to act so that they may recognize your rights. Let us not close our hearts, not look somewhere else. The presence of God today is also called ‘Rohingya.’ May each of us give our own response.”