Pope Francis is known for championing the rights of refugees and has repeatedly expressed his support for the Rohingya.
Dhaka: Pope Francis referred to refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh as “Rohingya” on Friday, using the politically sensitive name for the persecuted minority for the first time on an Asia tour dominated by their plight after meeting some of them in Dhaka.
In a brief but strongly worded speech that followed an emotional encounter with a small group of the refugees who have fled to Bangladesh, he asked for forgiveness for all that the Rohingya have suffered “in the face of the world’s indifference”.
“Today the presence of God is also called Rohingya,” the Pope said on the sidelines of a gathering with the leaders of different faiths in Dhaka.
“Your tragedy is very hard, very great, but it has a place in our hearts. 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.”
More than 620,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh in the last three months, fleeing a violent military crackdown in mainly Buddhist Myanmar that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing. Among those the pope met was Shawkat Ara, a 12-year-old Rohingya orphan who broke down in tears shortly after the pope spoke to her and gently touched her head.
“My parents were killed. I don’t have any joy,” she told AFP, saying she had lost her entire family in an attack by the military in Myanmar.
Pope Francis is known for championing the rights of refugees and has repeatedly expressed his support for the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority whom he has described as his “brothers and sisters”.
But the usually forthright pontiff walked a diplomatic tightrope during his four days in Myanmar — the first ever papal visit to the country -- avoiding any direct reference to the ethnic cleansing allegations in public while appealing to Buddhist leaders to overcome “prejudice and hatred”.
Hours after arriving in Bangladesh he addressed the issue head-on, calling for “decisive” international measures to address the “grave crisis”. But as in Myanmar, he avoided using the term “Rohingya”, drawing criticism from some rights activists and refugees.