As Pope Francis (pictured) begins an official visit to Myanmar tomorrow (Monday), he is facing scrutiny as to whether he will use the word Rohingya.
In August called on Catholics to pray for “our Rohingya brethren”.
“Let all of us ask the Lord to save them, and to raise up men and women of goodwill to help them, who shall give them their full rights,” Francis told a service in Rome.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, has asked the pontiff not to use the word “Rohingya”.
Rights groups have disagreed, calling on Francis to use the term to show solidarity with a community that has been denied citizenship and is stripped of basic rights, including the freedom to move, work and marry.
“He should use the word Rohingya, and he should use it publicly because the Rohingya have very little left besides their identity,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
Tomas Munita for the New York Times said of an agreement with Bangladesh to begin returning displaced Rohingya within two months that “details were murky”. He writes: “Repatriation is urgent, but contentious, and will be meaningless unless Myanmar lays out an unambiguous and consistent path to citizenship, or at least legal residency, for the Rohingya, who today constitute some 10 per cent of all the world’s stateless people.
“Denying the possibility of citizenship to people resident in Myanmar for a long time is unworthy of the democracy [State Counsellor] Aung San Suu Kyi wants to forge as her last legacy.”
In Myanmar, Islam is still seen as the major threat to Buddhism, according to Thaw Parka, 46, a spokesman for the Buddhist nationalist Ma Ba Tha or Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.
The firebrand group’s role in spreading anti-Muslim sentiment is coming under increasing scrutiny after more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh since August 25.
“It is not like what the international community is saying. It is not genocide at all,” the monk told CNN from a monastery near Yangon with more than 100 monks.
Thaw Parka called claims of genocide “wild accusations” and said Buddhists in the state were the main victims of the violence.
“Our ethnic people are starving. They abandoned their villages. It is impossible to make a living, [if] they remain in their village,” the monk said.
Pope Francis. Picture credit: Flickr