Pope Francis Says 'Rohingya' During Emotional Encounter With Refugees

In a deeply moving encounter, Francis greeted and blessed a group of Rohingya Muslim refugees, grasping their hands and listening to their stories in a show of public solidarity over Asia’s worst refugee crisis in decades. He apologized for the “indifference of the world” to their plight and then pronounced the name of their ethnic group to a gathering of Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian leaders.

“The presence of God today is also called ‘Rohingya,'” he said.

The campaign has included the burning of Rohingya villages and fleeing Rohingya have described arson, rape and shootings by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs that left them no option but to make the dangerous and sometimes deadly journey through jungles and by sea to Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s government and most of the Buddhist majority recoil from the term “Rohingya,” saying the members of the Muslim minority are “Bengalis” who migrated illegally from Bangladesh. Myanmar doesn’t acknowledge them as a local ethnic group and won’t give them citizenship, even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations.

One by one, each one of the refugees approached the pope at the end of Friday’s event in the tented garden of the Dhaka archbishop’s residence. Francis blessed one little girl, placing his hand on her head, and grasped the shoulder of a young man. The women who approached him pushed aside their headscarves so they could speak, offering their hands out for him to hold.

Francis had refrained from publicly raising the crisis or using the word Rohingya while in Myanmar out of diplomatic deference to his hosts.

Bangladesh’s tiny Catholic community represents a fraction of 1 percent of the majority Muslim population of 160 million. Despite its small size, the Catholic Church runs a network of schools, orphanages and clinics and has enjoyed relative freedom in its work, though Christian missionaries say they have received letters threatening dire consequences if they continue to spread Christianity.

In his homily ordaining 16 new priests, Francis thanked those who came out for the Mass, noting that some people had traveled two days to attend.

Charitable Foundation Winston Churchill collects money to help refugees from Bangladesh. Donate

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