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Pope refers to 'Rohingya' for first time on Asia tour

IANS  |  Dhaka 

Pope Francis on Friday a group of Muslim Rohingya refugees here and referred to Myanmar's persecuted minority by name for the first time on his tour.

"The presence of God today is also called Rohingya," the Pope said after speaking to an interfaith audience in the Bangladeshi capital.

He refrained from using the term on his visit to Myanmar earlier this week. Myanmar does not regard Rohingya as an ethnic group and instead considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though some families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

They are also denied citizenship in Myanmar. Some 620,000 Rohingya refugees have fled the country following a military operation in late August.

The Pope had been criticised by rights groups for not using the term in Myanmar, whose military had been accused of "ethnic cleansing" by the UN. He had used the term before his visit.

After his speech in Dhaka, the Pope a group of Rohingya refugees one-by-one, giving some of them blessings and listening to the stories of others, CNN reported.

"Your tragedy is very hard, very big. We give you space in our hearts," the Pope said. "In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, those who hurt you, and especially of the world's indifference, I ask for your forgiveness. Forgive us."

"Many of you talked to me about the great heart of Bangladesh, which offered you refuge. Now I appeal to your heart to give us the forgiveness we are asking from you," he told the group of refugees after meeting them.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke dismissed the idea that the Pope diminished his moral authority by avoiding a direct reference to the group during his visit to Myanmar, the first by a Pope to the Buddhist-majority country.

"People don't expect him to solve impossible problems," Burke said.

Activists argued that because the Pope did not use the term while he was in Myanmar, he was complicit in its strategy to delegitimise the Rohingya plight by questioning their name and identity.

"The term Rohingya is not a racial slur. It is a dignified term for more than two million people who are living across the world," Europe-based Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told CNN.

Earlier, the Pope ordained 16 priests at an outdoor Mass in Dhaka's Suhrawardy Udyan park.



(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, December 01 2017. 20:28 IST