Home / World News / Pope’s words will matter in Myanmar

Pope’s words will matter in Myanmar

Katie Stallard, Asia Correspondent

Pope Francis’ visit to Myanmar was already historic.

How his time there will be remembered, however, will be determined by what he chooses to say.

We often talk about actions speaking louder than words, but in this case the Pope’s words will matter just as much as his actions, and one word in particular: Rohingya.


A severely malnourished elderly woman struggles to stand

Video:
Special report: Rohingya refugee crisis

The most senior Catholic cardinal in Myanmar has urged the pontiff not to use it.

There are fears that the country’s tiny Catholic community could be targeted in a backlash by Buddhist nationalists if the pontiff is seen to be interfering in domestic affairs, and taking the side of a minority that is openly reviled by some sections of society.

The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens by the government in Myanmar, where they are often referred to as “illegal immigrants” or “Bengalis”, despite evidence of their presence there dating back centuries.

Rakhine State lies on the western coast of Myanmar, bordering the Bay of Bengal
Image:
Rakhine State lies on the western coast of Myanmar, bordering the Bay of Bengal

Aung San Suu Kyi herself, Nobel Peace Prize winner and now the nation’s de facto leader, whom the Pope will meet on Tuesday, tends to call them the “Muslims in Rakhine.”

It is certainly true that talking publicly about the Rohingya in Myanmar will not win the pontiff any popularity contests, and he will clearly have to listen to the fears of church leaders there.

But it will be a powerful statement of support for the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are currently fleeing across the border into Bangladesh, bringing with them desperate stories of systematic rape, torture and murder, and what amount to crimes against humanity.

Perhaps he will be prepared to do what Ms Suu Kyi will not – to publicly condemn the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims – which is happening now, in Myanmar, in the 21st century.

Katie Stallard

Giving them back their name would acknowledge the Rohingya for what they are: people, with rights and dignity.

Pope Francis has spoken out on their behalf twice before, calling for prayers for “our Rohingya brothers and sisters” and describing what is happening to them as a “campaign of terror”.

He has said they are being “tortured and killed simply because they uphold their Muslim faith”.

Catholic faithful wait along a street in Yangon
Image:
Catholic faithful wait along a street in Yangon

So perhaps he will be prepared to do what Ms Suu Kyi will not – to publicly condemn the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims – which is happening now, in Myanmar, in the 21st century.

The signals so far have been mixed.

A Vatican spokesman has said that the Pope takes the advice he has received on the issue seriously, but that “it is not a forbidden word”.

Pope Francis has developed a reputation for standing up for the oppressed and the marginalised.

He is unlikely to find a more oppressed and marginalised community to stand up for.

Sky Views is a series of comment pieces by Sky News editors and correspondents, published every morning.

Previously on Sky Views: Ian King – It’s time for a land value tax

About brandsauthority

Check Also

Opinion | Elon Musk: ‘A.I. Doesn’t Need to Hate Us to Destroy Us’

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway? [MUSIC PLAYING] kara swisher …

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: