THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BANGLADESH (CNS) -- Well aware he was disappointing some
people by not using the word "Rohingya" publicly in Myanmar, Pope Francis
said his chief concern had been to get a point across, and he did.
I would have used the word, the door would have closed," he told reporters
Dec. 2 during his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome.
spent almost an hour answering reporters' questions after his six-day trip to
Myanmar and Bangladesh, but insisted that most of the questions be about the
his speeches in Myanmar, Pope Francis repeatedly referred to the obligation to
defend the lives and human rights of all people. But he did not specifically
mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state. The Myanmar
military, claiming it is cracking down on militants, has been accused of a
massive persecution of the Rohingya to the point that some describe it as "ethnic
than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the Bangladeshi border just since
August, joining hundreds of thousands already living in refugee camps there.
For the government of Myanmar,
the Rohingya do not exist; instead they are considered undocumented immigrants.
knew that if, in an official speech, I would have used the word, they would
close the door in my face," the pope told reporters who asked why he did
not name the group. However, "I
described the situation" publicly, knowing "I could go further in the
private meetings" with government officials.
was very, very satisfied with the meetings," the pope said. "I dared
to say everything I wanted to say."
is true, he said, "I did not have the pleasure" of making "a
public denunciation, but I had the satisfaction of dialoguing, allowing the
other to have his say and, in that way, the message got across."
finally being able to meet some of the Rohingya refugees Dec. 1 in Bangladesh
was an emotional moment.
were made for 16 refugees to travel to Dhaka from Cox's Bazar, where the huge
refugee camps are, so they could join the pope and Bangladeshi religious
leaders for a meeting devoted to peace.
refugees had traveled so far and been through so much that Pope Francis said he
could not just let them shake his hand and be whisked away, as some event
organizers seemed to think was proper.
there I got upset. I yelled a bit. I'm a sinner," he said.
had a few minutes with each of them, listening to their stories with the help
of an interpreter, holding their hands and looking into their eyes.
was crying, but tried to hide it," the pope told reporters. "They
were crying, too."
to them was emotional, he said, and "I couldn't let them leave without
saying something" to them. So he asked for a microphone and spoke about
their God-given dignity and the obligation believers of all faiths have to
stand up for them as brothers and sisters. He also apologized for all they had
Francis refused to give reporters details about his private meetings with
government officials and military leaders in Myanmar, but insisted they were
marked by "civilized dialogue" and he was able to make the points
important to him.
pope was asked what he thought of recent criticism by human rights groups of
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of Myanmar's
civilian government, over her handling of the Rohingya crisis. Pope Francis
responded that people must take into account the challenges that are part of
Myanmar's transition from military rule to democracy.
is at a "turning point" where it will be difficult to move forward,
he said, but it also would be difficult to back away from change.
he said, "I never lose hope."
same God who made the meeting with the Rohingya in Dhaka possible will continue
to work marvels, Pope Francis said.