MNA Exclusive Desk: Pope Francis’s embrace of the Rohingya during a trip to Bangladesh has sparked some angry comment on social media in Myanmar, where just days earlier he chose not to publicly air their plight.
On Friday the head of the Catholic church met a group of refugees from Myanmar’s stateless Muslim minority in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.
He referred to them as “Rohingya” — a term unacceptable to many in Myanmar where they are reviled as alleged “Bengali” illegal immigrants rather than as a distinct ethnic group.
During his public addresses on the previous leg of his trip in mainly Buddhist Myanmar, Francis did not refer to the group by name or directly allude to the crisis in Rakhine state, from where over 620,000 Rohingya have fled since August.
His caution initially won applause from Myanmar’s tiny Catholic minority — who feared a nationalist blowback — as well as from Buddhist hardliners, who are on the defensive after a global outcry about the treatment of the group.
As he arrived back at the Vatican, the pontiff said he had taken up the Rohingya cause in private in Myanmar, also describing how he wept after meeting the group of refugees.
“I wept: I tried to do it in a way that it couldn’t be seen,” he told reporters. “They wept too.”
The comments sparked a flurry of online anger in Myanmar, a country locked off from modern communications for five decades but which now has an active social media.
“He is like a lizard whose colour has changed because of weather,” said Facebook user Aung Soe Lin of the pope’s strikingly different stances on the crisis.
“He should be a salesman or broker for using different words even though he is a religious leader,” said another Facebook user called Soe Soe.
“The Pope is a holy person… but he said something here (in Myanmar) and he said different in other country,” another Facebook user Ye Linn Maung posted.