Following criticisms coming his way for failing to call the Rohingya refugees by name in Myanmar, Pope Francis on Saturday explained his controversial decision, stating that he did not want to risk shutting down dialogue with the country’s leader.
During the visit, he urged respect for “each ethnicity and its identity” during a speech in the southeast Asian country, but failed to make specific reference to what the UN has labelled “a textbook campaign of ethnic cleansing”, with over 620,000 Rohingya having fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state amid a military crackdown in recent months.
The Catholic pontiff waited until he arrived Bangladesh on Friday before even mentioning the persecuted Muslims by name.
Speaking with journalists aboard the papal plane back from Bangladesh, he explained that, “had I said that word, I would have been slamming the door.
“What I thought about it was already well known,” Francis said, adding that he mentioned their plight on various occasions from the Vatican.
The Pope said in his private meetings that he was able to go beyond his public words, expressing confidence that his message had been heard during private meetings with Myanmar’s leaders.
“I didn’t have the pleasure of slamming the door publicly, a denouncement,” he said, “but I had the satisfaction of dialogue.”
The pontiff stated that he had made meeting the Rohingya a condition of going on the trip, but it had not been logistically possible to visit the refugee camps, although he would have liked to.
Following talks with the Pope, Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi referred to the Rohingya crisis as “the situation in the Rakhine state” which had “captured the attention of the world”.