The Holy See has established full diplomatic relations with Burma after a meeting on Thursday between Pope Francis and the country’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Vatican said in a statement that it has jointly agreed with the Burmese government to “establish diplomatic relations at the level of Apostolic Nunciature, on behalf of the Holy See, and Embassy, on the part of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”
The Pope broke with normal protocol and came out to meet Suu Kyi publicly upon her arrival at his office, something he normally only does for heads of state. As State Counsellor, Suu Kyi is de facto head of government, but not officially the country’s leader.
The two spoke for 23 minutes during their meeting, during which the Pope presented Suu Kyi with a bronze medallion depicting a desert turning to bloom. The Vatican said the piece was a “parable of the change that takes place when men and women open their hearts to the authentic values of growth and social harmony.”
The meeting came as Suu Kyi toured Europe meeting leaders this week.
On Wednesday, the Nobel laureate faced criticism for rejecting a decision by the UN’s human rights council to investigate alleged crimes committed against Burma’s Rohingya minority.
“We have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think that the resolution is in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground,” she told a press conference.
Pope Francis has previously rebuked the Burmese government for its treatment of the Rohingyas, saying: “They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith.”