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Bangladesh: “I ask your forgiveness” says Pope Francis to Rohingya refugees
04 December 2017

Pope Francis meeting with Rohingya refugees during an Interreligious and Ecumenical Meeting for Peace in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Aijaz Rahi/AP Photo)
"To cultivate an openness of heart that views others as an avenue, not a barrier.” Pope Francis

Dhaka, 4 December 2017 Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with the Rohingya people and asked for reconciliation last Friday after meeting 16 Rohingya refugees who fled persecution and are now living in the camps at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the district bordering Myanmar.

“In the name of all those who persecuted you, of all those who did you evil, of the world’s indifference, I ask your forgiveness,” said the Holy Father after listening to their tragic stories. He stated once again that refugees “are the image of the living God,” and appealed to all believers and people of good will everywhere, “Let us not close the heart, let us not look the other way. The presence of God today is also called Rohingya. Let us continue to stay close to them so that their rights may be recognized.”

The encounter took place during an Interreligious and Ecumenical Meeting for Peace in the garden of the Archbishop of Dhaka’s residence, where the Holy Father met with Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other Christian religious leaders.

A highly significant moment in his visit to Bangladesh, Pope Francis addressed then need to cooperate in shaping a culture of encounter, dialogue, and cooperation, which “challenges us to cultivate an openness of heart that views others as an avenue, not a barrier.”

Engaging with another is not a mere exchange of ideas. Rather, it entails sharing our distinct religious and cultural identity, always with humility, honesty, and respect. “How much our world needs this heart to beat strongly, to counter the virus of political corruption, destructive religious ideologies, and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities, and those who are most vulnerable.”

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Fr Mark Raper SJ, Jesuit Superior in Myanmar, said that the Pope’s approach gave the Catholic church – a religious minority in Myanmar – a beautiful “profile of gentleness, of compassion, of not judging – but of accompanying, listening, and learning”.

Fr Raper highlighted the respect that people in Myanmar have for all religions and pointed out that the social difficulties the outside world perceives have to do with deep-rooted ethnic enmity.

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled across the border from Rakhine State in Myanmar since August – many are children without parents. The Jesuit Refugee Service is committed to responding to the needs of the Rohingya people in collaboration with the Church of Bangladesh, Caritas Bangladesh and local Jesuit communities.

Click here to read the full address of the Holy Father

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Martina Bezzini