International desk, November 28: Pope Francis has delivered a keynote speech in Myanmar, saying its people “continue to suffer from civil conflict and hostilities” but without referring specifically to its Rohingya people.Rights groups had urged the Pope to use the term to back the Muslim community.
However, the Catholic Church in the country had told him the term could cause difficulties for Catholics.
Myanmar has been accused of ethnic cleansing, with 620,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh since August.
Before his speech Pope Francis met Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Although he made no direct reference to the Rohingya, the Pope’s speech was a strong defence of ethnic rights.
He said: “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.”
Francis said Myanmar’s greatest treasure was its people and that they had “suffered greatly, and continue to suffer, from civil conflict and hostilities that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions”.
“As the nation now works to restore peace, the healing of those wounds must be a paramount political and spiritual priority.”
The 80-year-old Pope is on the second day of a four-day visit to the country.
In an earlier 40-minute meeting in Yangon with leaders of the Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and Christian faiths, the Pope also made no direct reference to the Rohingya, according to Vatican officials who gave a briefing on the meeting.