Pope asks Rohingya for forgiveness for the world's indifference


Pope Francis asked for forgiveness on Friday from the minority Muslim refugees who have been forced to flee a military crackdown in Myanmar to Bangladesh, using the word "Rohingya" for the first time during his trip to the region.

"In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, of those who have done you wrong, above all, the world's indifference, I ask you for forgiveness," Francis said in Dhaka.  "I now appeal to your big heart, that you are able to grant us the forgiveness we seek."

The pope refrained from speaking directly about the Rohingya while in Myanmar, where the local Catholic Church urged him to respect the views of the majority of the population, which does not consider Rohingya to be citizens and calls them "Bengali," inferring they are from Bangladesh.

"The presence of God is today also called Rohingya," said the pontiff, calling for help for the persecuted Muslims. "We will continue to help them. We will continue to help so that their right is acknowledged and recognised. We will not close our hearts, we will not look the other way," the pope told a gathering in Dhaka after a meeting with a group of 18 Rohingya.

The group was brought from the south-eastern Bangladeshi district of Cox's Bazar where the refugees live in squalid camps. They met Francis following an interfaith prayer attended by leaders of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious minorities at the residence of archbishop.

Francis listened to their stories and shook hands with all of them, including two women wearing black burkas and two children and assured them of continuous help. More than 624,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar's army launched a crackdown in the country's restive Rakhine state on 25 August, following attacks by suspected Rohingya militants. Nurullah, one of Rohingya who met the pope, told reporters that they had sought his assistance in returning to their homes as Myanmar nationals.

Rights groups have accused Myanmar's army of excessive use of force against the minority ethnic group which the United Nations and the United States have called "ethnic cleansing." After arriving in Dhaka on Thursday, Francis called on the international community to take decisive measures to resolve the Rohingya crisis.

"How much our world needs this heart to beat strongly, to counter the virus of political corruption, destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are most vulnerable," he said at the interfaith prayer.

Bangladesh has an estimated 375,000 Catholics, a fraction of the population of 160 million of which more than 90 per cent are Muslims.

Earlier in the day, thousands of Christians as well as members of other faiths gathered at a park in Dhaka to celebrate an open-air Mass hosted by Francis, during which he ordained 16 priests. It was the first visit to Bangladesh by a sitting pope since Pope John Paul II's visit in 1986.    (dpa)

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