Pope Francis used the word “Rohingya” for the first time during his trip to Asia as he asked for forgiveness from refugees for the hurt they have endured.
In a moving encounter, the Pontiff greeted and blessed a group of Rohingya refugees, holding their hands and listening to their stories in a show of solidarity.
He apologised for the “indifference of the world” to their plight and then said their ethnic group’s name.
“The presence of God today is also called ‘Rohingya’,” the Pope said during the event in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Francis had avoided saying the word days earlier when in Myanmar for diplomatic reasons, the Vatican said.
Many in Myanmar reject the term “Rohingya” and instead refer to the group as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In recent months, more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh amid a police crackdown, which the UN has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The refugees who met the Pope – 12 men, two women and two young girls – travelled to meet him from Cox’s Bazar, the district bordering Burma where refugee camps are housing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.
“Maybe we can’t do much for you, but your tragedy has a place in our hearts,” Francis said.
“For those who have hurt you, and above all the indifference of the world, I ask your forgiveness.”