The decision to officially form diplomatic ties was made in March, and relations were further cemented in May when Suu Kyi visited Pope Francis at the Vatican, with both leaders agreeing to send ambassadors to each other's countries.
With Catholic bishops in Burma backing Suu Kyi and her government, the decision to establish ties and schedule a papal visit so soon after was likely made in a bid to support democracy in the country amid fears it could crumble under too much pressure from both inside and outside of the country.
In his first speech of the trip, given to Burmese authorities and diplomats Nov. 28, the Pope said healing and peace in the nation can only be achieved through the pursuit of justice and the promotion of human rights.
He also advocated for "the consolidation of democracy and the growth of unity and peace at every level of society." He further advanced the cause of democracy in his speech to bishops earlier today, during which he told them to spread the Gospel through charity and the "support for democratic rule."
In the lead-up to Francis' visit, the heat has been turned up on Suu Kyi, with many claiming the leader isn't doing enough to defend the Rohingya.
On Monday the Oxford City Council voted to strip Suu Kyi of her "Freedom of Oxford" award over what they said was a failure to speak out on abuses committed against the Rohingya. She was initially given the award in 1997 and collected it personally in 2012 after 15 years of house arrest.
However, the bishops have continued to support Suu Kyi. In a September statement, they called for an end to persecution of the Rohingya, while also emphasizing the complicated nature of the political, military, and humanitarian situation in the country, and saying that lasting reform will take time and that placing sole blame on Suu Kyi is counterproductive.
"Thousands of citizens went on the street against the socialist government and gave their lives on the streets of Yangon," Fr. Soe Naing said at the press conference. "So we cannot just forget all these struggles to have a democratic transition in this country."
And this democracy is now in danger again, the priest said, explaining that when Suu Kyi is criticized, the pressure comes in two ways: "the international community and the people in the country."
He argued that the leader, and therefore democracy, is suffering as some criticize her on the Rohingya front, while others use her weakened public standing as an opportunity question the benefits of democracy for Burmese society.
Soe Naing said "we have to come up with a clear stand that we are for development of the country. We have just 18 months of her rule and then we met this crisis, and she is under pressure from all sides," so the Church is eager to provide support.
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Also present at the press conference was Bishop Hsane Hgyi, Vice President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Burma (CBCM); Bishop Felix Liankhenthang, President of the CBCM; and Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, auxiliary bishop of Yangon.
In comments to journalists, Bishop Hgyi stressed the importance of both knowing and focusing on the truth on the political situation.
"We know Aung Sun Suu Kyi has been sacrificing and suffering for many years, not for herself and not for her family, but for her country," he said, and cautioned against believing everything that's read in the papers.
People ought to look for authoritative sources, he said, and suggested that critics "go into the field to study the reality and study the history well" before speaking, because "just hearing from other people won't be enough."
When asked whether there is fear that the Rohingya might be disappointed that Pope Francis has decided not to use the term during his visit to Burma, Burke said "Vatican diplomacy is not infallible," and that everyone is entitled to form their own opinion on the matter.
"That's part of what diplomatic work is about," he said, explaining that the main goal of the Holy See is "building bridges" in a nation with which they are just starting to form diplomatic relations.