Pope Francis steered clear of using the term “Rohingya” while delivering a speech in front of Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday.
In his address, the Pontiff did, however, urge respect for “each ethnic group” and offered support for democratic government in the country.
“The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good,” the Pope said.
The Burmese government does not use the term “Rohingya” to refer to the country’s Muslim minority. Instead, it regards them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Catholic leaders within the country have urged Pope Francis not to refer to the group directly, despite an ongoing crisis described by some international leaders as “genocide”.
The Pope also acknowledged that the Burmese people have “suffered greatly, and continue to suffer, from civil conflict and hostilities that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions.”
However, he praised the “great sign of hope” that people of different religious traditions are now “making efforts to work together”.
In her response to Pope Francis, Aung San Suu Kyi also avoided the word “Rohingya”, but did mention “the situation in Rakhine,” the province in which most the Muslims reside.
“As we address long standing issues, social, economic and political, that have eroded trust and understanding, harmony and cooperation, between different communities in Rakhine, the support of our people and of good friends who only wish to see us succeed in our endeavors, has been invaluable,” she said.
The remarks came after a change in protocol saw the Pope meet first with military leader General Min Aung Hlaing on Monday. Traditionally, the Pontiff meets civil authorities first when visiting a democratic country.
The Vatican refused to give details of the private meeting, saying only that the two men had spoken about “the great responsibility authorities in the country have at this moment of transition.”
The general later released a statement welcoming the Pope and claiming there is “no ethnic discrimination” in the country.