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Pope Francis Advised to Avoid One Word in Myanmar

Cardinal recommends he not say 'Rohingya'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 27, 2017 6:39 AM CST
Big Question on Pope Trip: Will He Say 'Rohingya'?
Pope Francis is welcomed upon his arrival at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. The pontiff is in Myanmar for the first stage of a week-long visit that will also take him to neighboring Bangladesh.   (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

(Newser) – Pope Francis has spoken out about cigarettes, whiners, and a dying baby—and on Monday, some Catholics are watching to see if he avoids one subject entirely. The pope has touched down in Yangon, Myanmar, in what is the first visit any pope has ever made to the country. The Catholic population is quite small—about 650,000—but it's another minority population that's in focus: Rohingya Muslims, who have allegedly suffered brutal treatment in the Buddhist-majority country. CNN reports Francis has previously come to the defense of the Rohingya, referring to them his persecuted "brothers and sisters." But Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, described by the Guardian as Myanmar's "most prominent Catholic," has recommended he not even directly use the word "Rohingya." More:

  • Alternative: The Guardian explains "Bengali" is generally what's used locally, which carries with it the implication that the group consists of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh; one suggested workaround is that Francis use language along the lines of "the people who identify themselves as Rohingyas."

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  • The AP explains the stakes: "Any decision to avoid the term could be viewed as a capitulation to Myanmar's military and a stain on his legacy of standing up for the most oppressed and marginalized of society, no matter how impolitic." The AP does note that the trip was scheduled prior to August, when the situation was said to have severely worsened.
  • One take: CNN quotes Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at Australia's Lowy Institute, whose view is that "clearly the thing that motivated this visit was always a desire to talk about the Rohingya. The question is ... is he going to do that in a way which is less confrontational and engages? Or is he going to say, this is outrageous, these people have a right to be in Myanmar?"
  • Another take: Rakhine nationalist leader Dr. Aye Maung does see the trip's timing as unusual, and, in suggesting restraint, offers this to the Guardian: "Before the bird sits on the tree branch, the branch doesn't have any vibrations, but when the bird flies out the branch is left swaying."
  • Pre-trip hints: Going into the trip, a Vatican rep not only used the word in a pre-trip briefing but described it as "not a prohibited word." But the AP notes top Vatican diplomat Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin declined to use it when speaking with Vatican media just prior to the trip.
  • What the US thinks: Last week, the US officially declared the situation to be an example of ethnic cleansing. "No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued," said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Read one horrifying account here.
(Read more Pope Francis stories.)

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