Vatican City, Nov 21, 2017 / 05:00 am
To prepare for Pope Francis’ trip to Burma, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the first and sole Burmese cardinal in the Church’s history, met with the Pontiff in a private audience Nov. 18. The cardinal offered the Pope three recommendations for his upcoming trip.
Cardinal Bo told CNA that “the meeting lasted about 30 minutes,” and that the Pope took each of his recommendations under consideration.
What did Cardinal Bo recommend?
First, he asked the Pope not to use the term “Rohingya” in speeches during the trip. Cardinal Bo explained that “the term is controversial.” In the Bengali language it means “a person who comes from the State of Rakhine”, though it is frequently suggested, and a matter of widespread controversy, that Rohingya are “a separate ethnic identity.”
“Extremists are trying to mobilize a population by using the word Rohingya, thus generating the risk of a possible new interreligious conflict,” the cardinal explained.
The term “Rohingya” often refers to Muslims from in the Rakhine State of Burma, who are not granted citizenship under Burmese law, and thus are stateless. The United Nations estimated that 582,000 Rohingya have fled Burma for Bangladesh. Pope Francis has made a number of appeals for the protection of the Rohingya.
Cardinal Bo said that the correct term is “Muslims of the Rakhine State.” He added that there are other minorities in Burmese territory who are enduring persecution and conflicts, among them the Kachin, Kahn, and Shahn people. He said these ethnic minorities also face displacement, but the “media are weak in telling their story.”
Cardinal Bo’s second recommendation was to include in the Pope’s schedule a meeting with General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief of the country’s Armed Forces. Burma functioned as a military dictatorship for more than 50 years, until democratic reforms taking root in 2011.