Pope urges world to act on Rohingya crisis

Pope Franci waters a tree he planted during a visit to the National Martyrs Memorial in Savar Bangladesh Nov. 30

Pope Franci waters a tree he planted during a visit to the National Martyrs Memorial in Savar Bangladesh Nov. 30

Pope Francis met and prayed alongside 16 Muslim refugees in Bangladesh on Friday, using the word "Rohingya" for the first time during a papal trip to Asia filled with diplomatic tensions. "I now appeal to your big heart, that you're able to grant us the forgiveness we seek".

Earlier on Thursday, Pope Francis arrived here on a three-day state visit, aiming to promote peace and reconciliation.

Francis' comments came at the end of an interfaith gathering at the archbishop's house in Dhaka, which was attended by leaders from Bangladesh's Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities. Most Rohingya are stateless and seen as illegal immigrants by Buddhist majority Myanmar. Around 100,000 Bangladeshi Catholics crammed into a park in central Dhaka, cheering and chanting "viva il papa" ("long live the pope") as Francis was driven through the crowd in a partly open Popemobile made specially for the occasion.

In recent months, more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state to Bangladesh amid a police crackdown, which the United Nations has described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

Myanmar's government denies the Rohingya are an ethnic group, insisting they are "Bengali" migrants who are not entitled to full citizenship.

Francis greeted and blessed a group of Rohingya refugees, holding their hands and listening to their stories in a show of solidarity.

Tapan Martin, 42 and from Dhaka, said he hoped the pope's prayers would help the Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh in their hundreds of thousands since a crackdown by the Myanmar military that began in August.

Francis - the first pope to visit Bangladesh in 31 years - will spend three days in the mainly-Muslim country, which is grappling with a rise in Islamist extremism that has seen Catholics attacked for their faith.

"It is imperative that the worldwide community take decisive measures to address this grave crisis, not only by working to resolve the political issues that have led to the mass displacement of people, but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs", the pope told Bangladeshi dignitaries and diplomats.

She later told AFP she escaped to Bangladesh after losing her entire family in an attack by the military in Myanmar.

Christians make up less than 0.5 percent of officially secular Bangladesh's population of 160 million and community leaders say it has become more hard to practise their faith openly.

Latest News