Rakhine, Catholics fear tensions over Pope's words on Rohingya
Controversy in the country following Angelus appeal for Rohingya. The Burmese majority is opposed to the recognition of their rights. Catholics have welcomed the Pope's words with astonishment and fear for his safety. The humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State is a very sensitive subject for society. The Church invites impartiality and underlines the contribution of the Pope's visit to the process of national pacification.
Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Burmese Church expresses joy and hope for the upcoming Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar, but the country the controversy over his appeal in favor of the Rohingya launched during Angelus on August 27 continues. The Buddhist majority of the population criticizes the Pope's invitation to pray for the recognition of the rights of the Muslim minority, opposed by most Burmese people. Many Catholics have welcomed his words with astonishment and now fear for his safety during the trip.
Some analysts argue that the influential Burmese army takes advantage of the conflict to assert its power from time to time, but in the population there is a widespread fear of possible Islamist infiltration in the country.
Burmese public opinion largely criticizes in particular the use by Pope Francis of the word "Rohingya". Since this ethnic minority is not recognized as one of 135 official ethnic groups, in Myanmar it is customary to refer to the group as "Rakhine Muslims" an expression of the region in which they reside. Even UN agencies, when operating in Burma, agree to use this definition.
In response to the polemics raised by the Pope's appeal, the Catholic Church has invited people to exercise impartiality when viewing the delicate humanitarian situation in Rakhine and underlines the important contribution that Pope Francis's apostolic visit can make to the difficult process of national pacification.
Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Bhamo and former director of Caritas Myanmar, tells AsiaNews: "The Pope is an icon of peace. We Burmese urgently need peace. Issues are becoming complicated Myanmar. The Rohingya problem is very sensitive nowadays. The Pope prays for Rohingya Muslims and talks about their rights and assistance. The Holy Father is a very passionate person. However, you need to know the details of these events. There are various news reports from both sides [the government and the Rohingya], and all the news is not easy to confirm. "
In recent days, new clashes broke out in the border region. This violence has caused the deaths of 12 armed forces and 104 Islamic militants, as well as a humanitarian crisis that led to the evacuation of more than 4,000 non-Muslim residents and the Bangladeshi repulsion of about 3,000 Rohingya. The military and armed Islamic groups blame each other for the beginning of hostilities.
"I am worried - the bishop continues - that the problem of Rohingya today is politically delicate and that the choice of Pope's words could have a negative impact on other people. We are afraid that the Pope does not have enough accurate information and releases statements that do not reflect the reality. As the Holy Father, he would like to build peace. He keeps everyone in mind, regardless of their religious identity, as brothers and sisters in Christ. To say that the Rohingya are 'persecuted' can, however, create serious tensions in Myanmar. I hope that the visit and the presence of Pope Francis are welcome to all the parties involved. "
Fr. Mariano Soe Naing, spokesman for the Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (Cbcm) and director of the Office for Social Communication (Cbcm Osc), states: "We are very happy for the news of the papal visit, which we hope will promote the peace process. There are rumors that the Holy Father will visit Rakhine and the Rohingya. This is wrong. If we ever need to bring the Holy Father to our suffering people, we will take him to the Kachin refugee camps, where many civilian casualties have been displaced from their homes. The Pope will bring about 100 journalists. This visit will be highlighted by the international community. After the papal visit, there will be many advantages, especially in the field of diplomatic relations in Myanmar. " "With regard to the use of the term 'Rohingya', my view is that, to show respect for the people and the government of Myanmar, using the expression accepted by the institutions is more appropriate. If the Pope uses this term, we would be worried about his safety during the visit,” concludes. Mariano. (L.J.G.)