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Pope Meets 16 ‘Rohingya’ Refugees

December 1, 2017. Twelve Men, Four Women and Two Children

On the afternoon of the fifth day of his Apostolic Journey, Pope Francis received 18 “Rohingya” refugees from Cox’s Bazar, at the end of the Inter-Religious and Ecumenical Meeting for Peace, held in the garden of the Archbishopric of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

The Holy Father looked at, caressed and listened to the Muslim refugees, received by Bangladesh after their expulsion from the neighboring country Myanmar.

The Pope did so as a show of solidarity and “building of bridges” for peace, “meeting” with the poor and vulnerable, and traveling to the “peripheries,” three key pillars in his message to the world.

The 16 “Rohingya” refugees who greeted the Pontiff – 12 men, four women, and two children, were accompanied by interpreters of Caritas, the Catholic organization that, together with other Catholic and non-confessional NGOs, helps to assuage the humanitarian crisis this ethnic group is suffering at present.

This meeting notwithstanding, the Pope explained in Myanmar that the main purpose of his Apostolic Journey to Myanmar and Bangladesh was to “pray with the small but fervent Catholic Community of the nation, to confirm it in the faith and encourage it to continue contributing to the good of the country.” He said this in his address to the Civil and Diplomatic Authorities in the sitting room of the Presidential Palace. However, he added as well that it was to “reach all the population of Myanmar and offer a word of encouragement to all those that are working to build a just, reconciled and inclusive social order.”

During his visit to Myanmar, the Holy Father didn’t use the word “Rohingya,” given the Burmese Government’s prohibition of its use imposed on Diplomatic Authorities, but referring to them as “refugees of Kachin,” the northernmost state of Myanmar.

The “Rohingyas’” Gift

During His Apostolic Visit to Myanmar, Pope Francis held a wooden pastoral crosier, crafted by the “Rohingya” refugees of Kachin state, as they were unable to attend the Mass in Yangon, given the state of poverty in which they live.”

Over 607,000 Displaced

The “Rohingyas are a Muslim ethnic minority that the Yangon Government  — headed politically by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – doesn’t recognize as citizens. There are already over 607,000 “Rohingya” refugees that have arrived in Bangladesh seeking a safe place, reported ACNUR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].

According to the pontifical agency Fides, the “Rohingya are now sheltered in the Winemaw camp, given the civil war between the Burmese army and the “Kachin” armed groups in one of the various ethnic conflicts in the country, made up, at the social level, by a Burmese majority and by 135 linguistic ethnic minorities. (Read in Zenit).

The local Catholic Church is supporting them, states Fides. In the diocese of Myitkyina, there are over 8,000 displaced people who cannot return to their villages because of the constant violence. Caritas helps them, trying also to give them the possibility to cultivate the land so that they themselves can contribute to their sustenance.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester