Vastavam web: Pope Francis begins his first full day in Myanmar traveling to the country’s capital today to meet with the civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a day after hosting the military general in charge of the crackdown on the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.Francis’ speech to Suu Kyi, other Myanmar authorities and the diplomatic corps in Naypyitaw is the most anticipated of his visit, given the outcry over the crackdown, which the U.S.Myanmar’s Catholic leaders have stressed that Suu Kyi has no voice to speak out against the military over the operation, and have urged continued support for her efforts to move Myanmar toward a more democratic future that includes all its religious minorities, Christians in particular.
How Francis bridges the local Catholic concerns with his legacy of speaking out for oppressed minorities is the key to watch in his speech in Naypyitaw.Francis dove into the crisis hours after arriving yesterday by meeting with the commander responsible for the crackdown, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, and three members of the bureau of special operations.Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s office said in a statement on Facebook that he is willing to have “interfaith peace, unity and justice.” The general added that there was no religious or ethnic persecution or discrimination in Myanmar, and that the government allowed different faith groups to have freedom of worship.
Rohingya Muslims have long faced state-supported discrimination in the predominantly Buddhist country and were stripped of citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless.And they have urged him to toe a delicate line in condemning the violence, given the potential for blowback against Myanmar’s tiny Catholic community.Francis previously has prayed for “our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” lamented their suffering and called for them to enjoy full rights. As a result, much of the debate before his trip focused on whether he would again express solidarity with the Rohingya.
Any decision to avoid the term and shy away from the conflict 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.