By Junno Arocho Esteves
A day after appealing for an end the violent persecution of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, the Vatican announced Pope Francis will visit the country in late November.
After his visit from 27 to 30 November to the cities of Yangon and Naypyitaw in Myanmar, the Pope will travel on to Dhaka, Bangladesh, from 30 November to 2 December, the Vatican said in a statement on 28 August.
After praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square the day before, Pope Francis said he was saddened by the news “of the persecution of a religious minority, our Rohingya brothers and sisters.”
News media reported violent clashes on 25 and 26 August after Rohingya fighters attacked 30 police stations.
More than 100 people, mostly insurgents, have been reported killed, according to the BBC.
Most of the Rohingya population in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been denied citizenship in Myanmar, which is predominantly Buddhist.
About 120,000 Rohingya are trapped in internally displaced person camps near the state capital, Sittwe. A further 400,000 live in the state’s north, which is currently under martial law.
Media are forbidden to travel to the region but reports of atrocities by the military, including rape, murder and burning villages, have leaked over the past year.
The United Nations says more than 170,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, in the past five years.
“I would like to express my full closeness to (the Rohingya),” the Holy Father said.
“Let us ask the Lord to save them, and to raise up men and women of goodwill to help them, that they may be given full rights.”
The Pope also prayed for the victims of monsoon floods in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
The devastating floods have claimed the lives of over 1,200 people and displaced millions, the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera reported.
“I express my closeness to all the affected populations and I pray for the victims and for all who suffer due to this calamity,” Pope Francis said.
CATHOLIC MISSION AUSTRALIA WELCOMES HOLY FATHER’S VISIT TO MYANMAR
News of the Pope’s planned visit have been welcomed in Australia by Catholic Mission, with National Director Father Brian Lucas saying it should help to strengthen the Church’s work in Myanmar and boost reconciliation efforts.
“We are very pleased to hear confirmation that Pope Francis will be visiting Myanmar,” Fr Lucas said.
“It is especially encouraging for Cardinal Maung Bo who has been a strong advocate for his people and for peace. We hope this visit provides an impetus for reconciliation.”
The Catholic Church has been increasingly active in its contributions to healthcare and education in Myanmar, as the country struggles to deal with the impacts of six decades of civil unrest and the troubling situation of the Rohingya people.