Myanmar’s neighbours were watching the Pope’s recent visit closely, worried that the country's treatment of the Rohingya Muslims could inflame inter-religious conflicts in the region, writes Redemptorist Bruce Duncan.
Some western groups, including Amnesty International, have criticised Pope Francis for not speaking strongly against the persecution of Muslims in Rakhine state and their expulsion into Bangladesh. His advisors, and especially the Myanmar Cardinal Bo, advised the Pope not even to mention the word ‘Rohingya’ lest it be seen as provocative in the agitated political climate, resulting in further conflict, including against Christians.
Pope Francis has protested about the plight of the Rohingya in Rome on several occasions, so his views are well known. He would have been foolish to ignore the advice of the local church in Myanmar, which asked him to avoid the possibly inflammatory word but speak to the issues nonetheless.
Few listening to the Pope in Myanmar during November 27-30 were in any doubt about the meaning of his talks, which were scrutinised very carefully.
Moreover, the Pope’s visit is being closely watched by neighbouring countries that are also trying to deal with conflict between religious groups and need the support of religious traditions to develop social inclusion and a culture of religious dialogue and harmony.
Francis is alert to Asian culture and sensitivities. Attacking military people publicly could have caused them to "lose face" and be seen as very offensive coming from a guest in their country. Instead he emphasised that Myanmar could take another path away from fanning a Buddhist-style populism, especially by drawing from traditional universal values in Buddhism.
Rather than sharpen painful points of conflict, Francis adopted a different strategy, appealing to the common values in all the religious traditions about harmony, peace-making, social development and human rights.
Critical to his efforts to advance inter-religious dialogue and collaboration was his meeting with leading Buddhist monks, affirming these values together in a shared responsibility.
Did Pope Francis succeed in Myanmar? (Redemptorists)