Pope Francis uses 'Rohingya' to refer to refugees

The Catholic pontiff used the word Rohingya when addressing refugees in Dhaka, who crossed from Myanmar into Bangladesh. He had been urged not to use the word during his earlier stay in Myanmar.

Pope Francis was speaking to Rohingya refugees in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, grasping their hands and listening to their stories.

He apologized for the "indifference of the world" to their plight, telling the 12 men and four women that "the presence of God today is also called Rohingya." It is the first time the pontiff has used the term in public on his current trip through Asia.

Read more: 'Apartheid' in Myanmar says Amnesty

He blessed one little girl, placing his hand on her head, and grasped the shoulder of a young man.

The Rohingya traveled to Dhaka from Cox's Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar where refugee camps are overflowing with more than 620,000 Rohingya who have fled what the UN says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar's military.

Bangladesch Dhaka - Papst Franziskus besucht Rohingya Flüchtlinge

Pope Francis spoke to several Rohingya refugees in Dhaka

'Respect for each ethnic group'

Myanmar does not recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group and calls them "Bengalis." Pope Francis had refrained from using the term "Rohingya" while in Myanmar earlier in the week.

There, the leader of the Catholic Church had called on Buddhist monks in Myanmar to conquer "prejudice and hatred" and urged "respect for each ethnic group and its identity." 

Read more: Pope pushes Catholic Church toward inter-faith dialogue

Earlier on Friday, the Argentine-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio presided over inter-faith prayers at the residence of Dhaka's archbishop. To get there, he traded his bulletproof "pope mobile" for a rickshaw, a popular mode of transport in Bangladesh.


Landmark Mass

Pope Francis traveled to Yangon's Kyaikkasan football stadium on Wednesday to celebrate his first public Mass in Myanmar. The pontiff told the crowd of some 150,000 worshippers to resist the temptation to exact revenge for the country's suffering, and instead promote peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.


Meeting the Lady

On Tuesday, the first full day of his Myanmar visit, Pope Francis was in the capital, Naypyidaw, for talks with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw and civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Rights groups had called for him to speak out about the country's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. In a speech, Francis urged "respect for each ethnic group," but did not mention the Rohingya by name.


'United in diversity'

Earlier, Francis met with leaders of Myanmar's different religious communities at the archbishop's residence in Yangon. During the gathering, the pontiff stressed the importance of "unity in diversity."


Roll out the red carpet

Although only 700,000 of Myanmar's 52 million inhabitants are Catholic, that didn't keep thousands of well-wishers from meeting Pope Francis at the airport on Monday and lining the streets of Yangon in order to catch a glimpse of the bishop of Rome.


A cause for celebration

"We come here to see the Holy Father. It happens once in hundreds of years," one Catholic community leader, who brought 1,800 Christians from the south and west to the country on the long train journey to Yangon, told Reuters news agency.


Minorities greet the pontiff

The pope was greeted by ethnic minorities in traditional dress. About 88 percent of Burmese people identify as Buddhist.


Humanitarian crisis

The government of Myanmar has been accused of "ethnic cleansing" including the widespread murder and rape of Rohingya Muslims in the country's Rakhine state. Once refugees from Bangladesh, the Rohingya have been declared stateless and persecuted by the Myanmar government.


Meeting with the commander

Soon after his arrival on Monday, Pope Francis received a "courtesy visit" from Myanmar's army chief Gerneal Min Aung Hlaing. The Vatican did not provide details about the brief meeting. Myanmar's military has been accused of violent purges of Rohingya villages.


First stop

After Myanmar, the pontiff will head to Bangladesh, where many Rohingya have fled. Some inside the Vatican have said that the trip was arranged too hastily after a visit by the now controversial leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Rome last May.

ng/msh (dpa, AFP, AP)

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