In troubling times like these, with the leader of the free world re-tweeting racist videos, and the protests in Pakistan calling for stringent anti-Ahmadi laws, Pope Francis, when he met with Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, proves to us that inter-faith harmony still exists.
Over the years, the Pope had earned the reputation of being the crusader for downtrodden people in the world, having gotten into trouble before for ditching diplomatic protocol and calling out injustice, most famously when he labelled the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians a “genocide” from the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Thus, when he avoided calling the Rohingya by name on his visit to Myanmar, human rights groups accused him of finally selling out to the opportunist diplomacy of the Vatican. However, the Pope fully compensated for his silence in Bangladesh by meeting with 16 Rohingya refugees, begged them for forgiveness for what they had endured and the “indifference of the world” to their plight. “The presence of God today also is called ‘Rohingya,’” he told them.
The Pope’s silence in Myanmar can be explained for the reason that he was visiting a church in a country where Christians face discrimination. Mentioning Rohingya, a highly sensitive and potentially dangerous topic in Burma, would’ve done no favours to the Christian cause, and would have probably shut the door for the Pope to make any negotiations with the Myanmar state to soften the stance on Rohingya refugees. As the Pope said, he didn’t have the pleasure of slamming the door in their face publicly with a denunciation but had the satisfaction of dialogue, which was in a way more effective.
While this declaration of support from the Pope may not do much, it is a small act of kindness in the path of inter-faith harmony, in a time of divisions and dogma.