Pope Francis on Friday uttered the eight-letter word he so carefully avoided in an appearance in Myanmar days earlier: Rohingya.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group who have fled Myanmar by the thousands amid an ethnic-cleansing campaign by the nation’s military.
Francis drew sharp criticism from the international human rights community when he failed to name the Rohingya during a series of addresses in Myanmar.
But he took a very different approach on his visit to Bangladesh, where he identified the group by name and asked the refugees for forgiveness for the suffering they have endured.
“The presence of God today is also called ‘Rohingya,’” Francis said before a gathering that included Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian leaders.
The Pope met with 16 Rohingya — 12 men, two women and two young girls — who had trekked to Dhaka from an area bordering Myanmar where more than 620,000 are living in refugee camps.
One by one, Francis blessed the refugees, grasping their hands and listening to their stories. “Maybe we can’t do much for you, but your tragedy has a place in our hearts,” Francis told them.
His voice trembled with emotion as he continued his passionate address to the refugees.
“In the name of all those who persecute you, who have persecuted you, and those who have hurt you, above all in the indifference of the world, I ask you for forgiveness,” the Pope said.
The United Nations and U.S. State Department have called on Myanmar to stop the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya minority. The Myanmar government has denied a systematic campaign against the Rohingya, saying the military has targeted only militant extremists.
The Pope had refrained from referencing the crisis or using the word Rohingya while in Myanmar out of diplomatic deference to his hosts.
Myanmar’s government loathes the term “Rohingya” and instead refers to them as “Bengalis” who migrated illegally from Bangladesh.