Catholic philanthropy threatened by diplomatic boundaries
On November 27, Pope Francis arrived in Myanmar to address and encourage praying within the country’s local Catholic community. Following his public speech however, the pontiff is accused of purposely avoiding mention of the Rohingya community, despite its internationally acknowledged massacre occurring on a daily basis.
In his statement, the Pope said “The arduous process of peacebuilding and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights”. Despite its positive nature, the speech was a source of much critique due to its ambiguity and failure to address the host country’s fundamental issue ‘head-on’ as highly-anticipated by activists world-wide.
According to CNN, Pope Francis chose to please his hosts rather than the Rohingyan minority many had expected him to defend. Although the pontiff emphasised the “respect for each ethnic group and identity”, his discourse did not touch on the subject of the persecuted Muslim minority, neither explicitly nor implicitly.
The Myanmar government publicly rejects the term ‘ Rohingya’ as it implies minority. Instead, these people are simply labelled as Bangladeshi immigrants, lacking any sort of citizen status.
Furthermore, according to professor Penny Green at Queen Mary University of London, by declining the use of the term Rohingya, Pope Francis is assisting in the delegitimizing of the term: its nullification as a whole, along with their identity.
A common assumption, according to the Guardian, is that the Pope might have molded his speech in accordance with local leaders’ wishes. Having delivered his public statements only shortly after having met with renowned public figure Aung San Suu Kyi, general suspicions suggest he might have avoided the term in question as a result of her request.
This potential explanation would signify the religious figure’s choice to prioritise political correctness over the denunciation of ethnic cleansing, a relatively significant disappointment in the eyes of many from a supposedly humanitarian religious icon.
As commented by the deputy of Human Rights Watch’s Asia department Phil Robertson “Rohingya have been stripped of so many things but their name should never be one of them”. In parallel to choosing to disregard the Rohingya’s name, Pope Francis has set aside their identity and existence as a people.
Among many disappointed parties, a member of the Rohingyan minority was disillusioned with the Pope’s neglect. “We were very happy and hopeful on his visit,” he stated. “But since the pope is not allowed to call out the name ‘Rohingya’, we wonder how bad the human rights situation is in Myanmar.
“He is the holiest man in the world, but it’s so sad to see that even the holiest man cannot call our identity.”