Pope Francis tiptoed around the Rohingya refugee crisis in this week’s meetings with Myanmar officials as thousands of people continue to flee state violence.
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Despite harsh criticism from around the world and his own past condemnations of the “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Muslim community, Pope Francis opted for a general statement of respect for religious freedoms.
“Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building," he said to the Myanmar people Tuesday after meeting with the nation’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
During the meeting, the topic was again avoided with only an offhand comment by Suu Kyi alluding to certain issues which she said are eroding “trust, understanding, harmony, and cooperation between different communities.”
Without naming any particular groups, Pope Francis told the crowd accepting different religions is the answer to the country’s aggravated state.
"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," he said.
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However, according to Sr. Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who met with the pope Monday, Myanmar has no religious discrimination. Aung Hlaing said all people are free to worship whatever religion they choose.
Since Aug 25, over 500,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have streamed into Bangladesh and other countries with horrific stories of torture and murder conducted by the military.
Tuesday marks the second day of the pope’s trip to the region. Earlier this morning, he met with the nation’s Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and Christian leaders, again failing to broach the subject of the mass exodus of Rohingyas. Pope Francis will continue his visit, traveling to Dhaka, Bangladesh on Thursday to speak with a small group of Rohingya refugees.