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Pope calls for peace in Myanmar on diplomatically fraught trip

| Updated: December 02, 2017 10:52:37


Photo: Reuters Photo: Reuters


Pope Francis called on the people of Myanmar on Wednesday to embrace peace and reconciliation as their country emerges from nearly five decades of military rule.

The pope made his appeal at an open-air mass in Yangon on the third day of a visit fraught with diplomatic risk over a military crackdown that has triggered the flight of about 625,000 Muslim Rohingya from the predominantly Buddhist country.

In a speech on Tuesday, he did not use the highly charged term ‘Rohingya’, following the advice of Vatican insiders who feared it could set off a diplomatic incident and turn Myanmar’s military and government against minority Christians.

However, his call for justice, human rights and respect for all were widely seen as applicable to the Rohingya, who are not recognized as citizens or as members of a distinct ethnic group.

The mass exodus from Rakhine state to the southern tip of Bangladesh began at the end of August when the military launched a counter-offensive in response to Rohingya militant attacks on an army base and police security posts.

Scores of Rohingya villages were burnt to the ground, and refugees told of killings and rapes. The United States said last week that the military’s campaign included “horrendous atrocities” aimed at “ethnic cleansing”.

Myanmar’s military has denied all accusations of murder, rape and forced displacement.

"WOUNDS OF VIOLENCE”

Only about 700,000 of Myanmar’s 51 million people are Roman Catholic. Thousands of them traveled from far and wide to Yangon to see the pope, and many attended Wednesday’s mass on the grounds of what had been racecourse during British colonial times.

Among the tens of thousands there were priests, nuns, diplomats, leaders of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy, and members of ethnic groups in traditional garb who sang songs and waved Myanmar and Vatican flags as they waited for the pope, reports Reuters.

“We may never get such a chance again. The pope lives in Rome and we can’t afford to go there,” said Bo Khin, 45, a teacher who traveled on a truck to Yangon with a group of 15 relatives from the city of Mandalay. “We feel very happy, joyful that he visited us in Myanmar.”

Bells chimed as Francis arrived. Standing in the back of a white truck, he smiled, waved at the crowd and looked relaxed as he headed to a pagoda-style canopy to celebrate mass.

In his homily, he called on the country’s people to “anoint every hurt and every painful memory” and promote “the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community”.

“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible,” he said, urging them to shun temptation to seek healing from anger and revenge.

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