by Josephine Moysey
From November 27th to 30th, 2017, Pope Francis visited Myanmar, the country I’ve called home for the last three years. There was much speculation before he arrived: would he say the word “Rohingya” or not? It’s not as simple decision as it might initially seem. Within Myanmar, the term “Rohingya” is perceived as somewhat inflammatory; the Rohingya themselves are seen as being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Many refer to them as “Bengali”. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi refers to them as “the Muslim community in Rakhine State”. A common opinion heard and shared among people within the Burmese Buddhist community is one of condemnation of the Pontiff, though this is not the official line. They have accused him of only supporting Muslims and not understanding or respecting the Buddhist community here. They say that even his very presence at this time shows that he is a Muslim sympathiser.
On the other hand, human rights groups urged the Pope to use the term “Rohingya”. They claimed the Pope needed to validate this identity and use the term as a show of support. Ultimately, Pope Francis did not use the term “Rohingya” whilst he was here. What was his reasoning for this?