NAYPYIDAW – Pope Francis urged the Myanmar authorities on Tuesday to respect each ethnic group to lay a foundation for peace and said that religions could not be the source of division.
Speaking before Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw and the de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Pope Francis said that the future of Myanmar should be peace based on the dignity and rights of each member of the society, and respect for each ethnic group and its identity.
As per the local Roman Catholic Church’s policy, the pope did not specifically mention the Rohingya Muslims who have been persecuted in the country, causing an exodus of 620,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh since August.
Speaking in Italian at the Convention Center of Myanmar’s capital, Pope Francis said that the religious communities in Myanmar had a special role to play in the national reconciliation and integration.
The pope added that religious differences should not be a source of division and mistrust, but an impulse for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and a wise construction of the nation.
The pontiff also said that religions could contribute to eradicating the causes of the conflict, constructing dialogue, seeking justice and becoming a prophetic voice in favor of the suffering people.
The pope recalled that his visit came after the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Myanmar in May, and said he hoped to continue the dialogue and constructive cooperation.
He said restoring peace and curing wounds should be a political priority, citing civil conflicts and hostilities as the root of profound divisions in the country.
The pontiff applauded the government’s efforts but warned that national reconciliation could only progress through a commitment for justice and respect for human rights.
He used the occasion to call on the small Roman Catholic Community – with around 650,000 members – to persist in their faith and continue professing their message of reconciliation and brotherhood through humanitarian and charity work.