Pope Meets Myanmar Military Commander During Visit to Yangon

Pope Meets Myanmar Military Commander During Visit to Yangon

Pope Francis visited Myanmar Monday to call for peace, as tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims trample the country's borders to escape what's been classified as a humanitarian catastrophe there.

The pope's visit comes on the heels of an agreement that Myanmar signed with Bangladesh on November 23 to begin repatriating Rohingya who have been displaced by the recent crackdown and are living in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters the meeting lasted 15 minutes.

For decades, Myanmar has subjected the Rohingya to systematic discrimination by depriving them of citizenship and access to basic services, though many have lived in the country for generations.

The pope will lead a public Mass at Kyaikkansan sports ground in Yangon on November 29 where more than 150,000 Catholics and people from other religions are expected to join.

Hundreds of schoolchildren greeted the pope on the tarmac, chanting "Viva il Papa". The United Nations and the human rights groups have accused Myanmar army of launching ethnic cleansing against the minority Muslims.

Banners and billboards along the road from the airport into the city proclaimed: "A heartiest welcome to the Holy Father, Pope Francis".

Pope Meets Myanmar Military Commander During Visit to Yangon
Pope Meets Myanmar Military Commander During Visit to Yangon

En route from Rome, Francis greeted journalists on the plane and apologized for the expected heat, which was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) upon his arrival and is expected to rise during his stay.

The pontiff is also scheduled to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw, cabinet members, diplomats, leaders of religious associations, and Catholics in Yangon before heading to Bangladesh for a two-day visit on Thursday. The refugees streamed across the border to escape Burmese military operations that were launched in Rakhine State following a deadly attack on 25 August against Burmese border police posts by a Rohingya militant group.

"We have been trying to bring a small group of Rohingya to meet the pontiff in Dhaka since it is not possible, at this point, to arrange a Papal trip to the refugees", added the Archbishop.

"He might help us get the peace that we are desperately searching for", she said. "If he decides to send us back, he will do so in a peaceful way". "So people must also be given freedom of religion".

Pope Francis has spoken out on Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya, who are disparagingly referred to as "Bengalis" because they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. "So, I think a lot of diplomacy is needed, in addition to the public relations".

"Let's hope he doesn't use this term because it has a very political connotation".

"But my feeling is that if the pope is going to talk about the Rakhine issue, the people aren't going to like the pope anymore", he said.

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