Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon (Photo: ucanews.com/Angie de Silva)
Myanmar’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, says church leaders have urged Pope Francis to avoid using the term “Rohingya” when he visits the country later this month.
The pope is scheduled to visit Myanmar for 4 days from November 27, before going to neighboring Bangladesh, where more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled following a Myanmar army crackdown that started in late August.
The majority of people in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar consider the Muslim Rohingya in the country’s Rakhine state as outsiders from Bangladesh and usually refer to them as Bengalis. Rohingya are excluded from the 135 “national races” recognized under Myanmar law.
Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to use the term Rohingya and urges foreign leaders not to do so, arguing it is inflammatory. Pope Francis has used the term “Rohingya” when he has spoken about their suffering in the recent past.
Cardinal Bo said Pope Francis would raise the need to provide assistance to the Muslim minority when he meets with the country’s leaders, Reuters reported. But he added Myanmar’s church leaders had advised him to sidestep the divisive issue of the Rohingya name.
“We have asked him at least to refrain from using the word ‘Rohingya’ because this word is very much contested and not acceptable by the military, nor the government, nor the people in Myanmar,” said Cardinal Bo.
He said it was unclear if the pope would heed the advice, but if he did so, it would not be to politicize the issue or endorse the Rohingya right to Myanmar citizenship.
Cardinal Bo said Pope Francis will highlight the importance of resolving the refugee crisis through dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh and with the help of the international community.