Why Pope Francis faces a tricky trip to Myanmar
Pope Francis has arrived in Myanmar at a time when the country faces widespread allegations of ethnic cleansing. The focus of his trip is on whether he will refer to Myanmar's Muslim minority as "Rohingya." Myanmar officials strongly reject the term and Francis' mention of it could potentially spark violence. Francis will be meeting Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit.
Rohingyas believed to be world's most persecuted minority
The Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim group who constitute around one million of Myanmar's predominantly Buddhist 50 million population. They speak a Bengali dialect, mainly reside in the country's impoverished northern Rakhine state. Myanmar views them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and doesn't officially recognize them as its citizens, rendering them stateless. The Rohingyas have allegedly been subjected to human rights abuses by Myanmar.
Pope visit was finalized before Rohingya crisis broke out
Pope Francis' visit to Myanmar was finalized when the pontiff met Suu Kyi at the Vatican in May, months before the Rohingya crisis broke out. The Pope will hold mass in Yangon which is expected to be attended by a large proportion of Myanmar's 660,000-strong Catholic community. Pope Francis is renowned for taking up the case of global refugees, including the Rohingya.
Pope's use of Rohingya could spark violence
In the past, the Pope had used the term "our Rohingya brothers and sisters" while condemning their persecution. However, Myanmar's sole Catholic cardinal has requested Francis to refrain from mentioning it over fears that it would inflame the local Buddhist-majority populace and lead to violence. Myanmar officials refer to the Rohingya as "Bengalis," implying that they migrated illegally from Bangladesh.
Pope to visit Bangladesh, will push for reconciliation
The Pope will depart Myanmar for Bangladesh, where he will meet a group of Rohingya refugees as a symbolic gesture. An agreement was signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh last week to finalize the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled across the border. Pope Francis' aides said he will attempt to encourage dialogue and reconciliation with respect to the provisional deal.