Face-to-face with refugees, pope calls them by Ro­hingya name

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - World -

Pope Fran­cis has got­ten into trou­ble be­fore for ditch­ing diplo­matic pro­to­col and call­ing a spade a spade, most fa­mously when he la­beled the Ot­toman-era slaugh­ter of Ar­me­ni­ans a “geno­cide” from the al­tar of St. Peter’s Basil­ica.

Fran­cis took the hit — Tur­key re­called its am­bas­sador to the Vat­i­can in protest — for the sake of stand­ing up for an op­pressed peo­ple who were nearly wiped off the map a cen­tury ago.

Given the op­por­tu­nity to do the same in Myan­mar, where the mil­i­tary has launched what the U.N. says is a cam­paign of eth­nic cleans­ing against the Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, Fran­cis opted in­stead for dipPOPE lo­matic ex­pe­di­ency. He not only avoided the con­tested term “Ro­hingya” in his public re­marks, he ig­nored Asia’s worst refugee cri­sis in decades en­tirely and didn’t call out his hosts for launch­ing it.

Hu­man rights groups com­plained. Ro­hingya com­plained. Jour­nal­ists and pun­dits asked if Fran­cis’ legacy as a fear­less cru­sader for the world’s most mar­ginal — the poor, home­less, refugees and pris­on­ers — wasn’t now in ques­tion.

By Fri­day, Fran­cis’ heart won out.

In an emo­tional en­counter with 16 Ro­hingya refugees, Fran­cis said what he prob­a­bly wanted to say from the start. His voice trem­bling af­ter he greeted the men, women and chil­dren who had been forced to flee their homes in Myan­mar for wretched camps in Bangladesh, Fran­cis begged them for for­give­ness for what they had en­dured and the “in­dif­fer­ence of the world” to their plight.

“The pres­ence of God to­day also is called ‘Ro­hingya,’” he told them.

And with that one word, Fran­cis erased days of spec­u­la­tion that the tell-it-like-it-is, pro­to­col-be-damned pope had sold out to the pro­fes­sional diplo­mats at the Vat­i­can who were will­ing to deny a per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity their very iden­tity for the sake of global and lo­cal church pol­i­tics.

Fran­cis on Satur­day ex­plained his strat­egy: He said he would have never got­ten his mes­sage across if he had launched into a public cri­tique of the Ro­hingya of­fen­sive while on Burmese soil, say­ing do­ing so would have “slammed the door in their face” to any real di­a­logue.

“It’s true I didn’t have the plea­sure of slam­ming the door in their face pub­licly with a de­nun­ci­a­tion,” Fran­cis told re­porters en route home to Rome. “But I had the sat­is­fac­tion of di­a­logue, and let­ting the other side di­a­logue, and in this way the mes­sage ar­rived.”

The Vat­i­can had de­fended Fran­cis’ ini­tial si­lence as nec­es­sary for the sake of “build­ing bridges” with Myan­mar, which only es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with the Holy See in May.

“Vat­i­can diplo­macy is not in­fal­li­ble,” spokesman Greg Burke told re­porters in Yan­gon. “You can crit­i­cize what’s said, what’s not said. But the pope is not go­ing to lose moral author­ity on this ques­tion here.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.