News ID: 199521
Published: 0221 GMT August 28, 2017

Pope to visit Myanmar, Bangladesh as Rohingya crisis intensifies

Pope to visit Myanmar, Bangladesh as Rohingya crisis intensifies

Pope Francis will visit Myanmar and Bangladesh later this year, the Vatican announced Monday, hours after the Catholic leader decried the plight of Rohingya Muslims as they flee fresh violence.

The landmark visit in late November and early December takes in Myanmar – a largely Buddhist country and Muslim-majority Bangladesh which hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from an bloody crackdown by the military, AFP reported.

Francis has frequently lamented the treatment of the Rohingya, a largely Muslim minority who have long lived under apartheid-like restrictions in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

Tens of thousands have fled to Bangladesh in recent months to escape Myanmar's army crackdown.

Announced simultaneously on Monday in Rome, Yangon and Dhaka, the visit will see Pope Francis travel first to Myanmar on November 27 to 30, taking in Yangon and the capital Naypyidaw. On November 30 he will travel to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, leaving on December 2.

It is the first time a pope has travelled to Myanmar and only the second time a papal visit has been made to Bangladesh after Pope John Paul II's trip there in 1986.

Myanmar and the Vatican only established full diplomatic relations in May, shortly after de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Pope Francis during a European tour. That visit was overshadowed by her country's treatment of the Rohingya.

Only weeks before Francis had described the Muslim minority as "brothers and sisters" who were being tortured and killed for their faith.

He added they were "good and peaceful people who have suffered for years," and urged Catholics to pray for them.

On Sunday, as fresh violence raged in Rakhine state, he hit out once more at the "sad news about the persecution of the religious minority of our Rohingya brothers".

"I would like to express my closeness to them and all of us ask the Lord to save them and to prompt men and women of good faith to help them and ensure their full rights," he added.

Impoverished Rakhine, which neighbors Bangladesh, has become a crucible of religious hatred focused on Rohingya, who are reviled and perceived as illegal immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Despite years of persecution and government restrictions, the Rohingya largely eschewed violence.

Buddhist nationalist hardliners in Myanmar have previously vowed to protest any papal visit because of the Pope's sympathy for the Rohingya.


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