The pontiff’s four-day visit has been marked by his avoidance in public of the crisis in northern Rakhine State and Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim community, AFP reported.
Francis has previously spoken out strongly in defense of the Muslim group, whom the UN and US say are victims of an ethnic cleansing campaign by Myanmar’s military that has driven 620,000 of them into Bangladesh since late August.
“If we are to be united, as is our purpose, we need to surmount all forms of misunderstanding, intolerance, prejudice and hatred,” the pope told the orange-robed monks of Myanmar’s highest Buddhist body, called the Sangha Maha Nayka.
Radical monks have played a key role in fanning Islamaphobia in Myanmar and hardening attitudes towards the Rohingya.
Earlier on Wednesday the pope delivered a message of forgiveness in an open-air mass before a sea of Catholics in Yangon, many wearing colorful costumes from the country’s myriad ethnic groups.
The pontiff noted that many Myanmar people “bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible.”
But he urged his audience to forgo anger and respond with “forgiveness and compassion.”
His visit has been as much political as religious in a country on the defensive after the global outrage over the plight of the Rohingya.
He held private talks with both civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the powerful Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing, who are part of a delicate power-sharing arrangement as the country emerges from decades of junta rule.
His caution so far will bring relief to Myanmar’s Catholic leaders, who had urged the pontiff not to wade into the treacherous issue for fear of sparking a backlash from Buddhist hardliners.
Even the mention of the name Rohingya is incendiary to many among the majority Buddhist population, who deny that the group are a distinct minority and insist on calling them “Bengalis.”
Reactions to the pope’s handling of the issue have been mixed, with some Rohingya expressing disappointment that he did not directly confront his hosts in public on their suffering or even mention their name.