NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (CNS) -- The plight of the ethnic Muslim minority
in Myanmar's Rakhine state was front and center in speeches by Pope
Francis and Aung San Suu Kyi,
but neither publicly used the word Rohingya.
After private meetings Nov. 28 with Myanmarese President Htin
Kyaw and Suu Kyi, the state counselor and de facto head of government, the
pope and Suu Kyi gave formal speeches to government officials and diplomats
gathered at the convention center in Naypyitaw, the nation's capital.
Suu Kyi, leader of the process to bring democracy to Myanmar
and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, publicly acknowledged, "Of
the many challenges that our government has been facing, the situation in
Rakhine has most strongly captured the attention of the world. As we address
long-standing issues -- social, economic and political -- that have eroded
trust and understanding, harmony and cooperation between different communities
in Rakhine, the support of our people and of good friends who only wish to see
us succeed in our endeavors has been invaluable."
"The road to peace is not always smooth," she told
the pope, "but it is the only way that will lead our people to their dream
of a just and prosperous land that will be their refuge, their pride, their
In his speech, Pope Francis was even less specific, although
he repeatedly insisted that the rights of each member of society and each
ethnic group must be respected. He praised the role of the United Nations
and the international community in supporting peace efforts, presumably also in
their condemnations of the discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority.
"The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on
respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each
ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a
democratic order that enables each individual and every group -- none excluded --
to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good," Pope Francis
The pope said he wanted to visit the country to strengthen
the small Catholic community and "to offer a word of encouragement to all
those who are working to build a just, reconciled and inclusive social
Myanmar's "greatest treasure," he insisted, "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
Pope Francis praised Suu Kyi for convoking the "21st
Century Panglong Union Peace Conference," a series of meetings that began
in 2016 between the government and militant groups from more than a dozen
ethnic groups in Myanmar.
The Rohingya are not included in the peace process since the
government does not consider them to be a Myanmar ethnic group, but rather
Pope Francis insisted, "The future of Myanmar must be
peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of
society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule
of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and
every group -- none excluded -- to offer its legitimate contribution to the
Religious communities must play a role in the process of
reconciliation and integration, he said. "Religious differences need not
be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity,
forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation building."
In addition to helping heal "the emotional, spiritual
and psychological wounds of those who have suffered in the years of conflict,"
he said all religions "can help to uproot the causes of conflict, build
bridges of dialogue, seek justice and be a prophetic voice for all who suffer."