Pope Francis will focus on trying to improve the troubles of about a million ethnic Muslim Rohingyas when he visits Myanmar, in the first ever papal visit to the country.
The visit is due to take place in the last week of November after the Pope was personally invited by President Htin Kyaw. News of his visit has leaked out of the Vatican but is not expected to be officially announced until next month.
The visit has already drawn the ire of hard-line Buddhist groups who have fanned sectarian violence and protest, especially against the Rohingya and other Muslims, over the past five years.
“No, no, don’t come,” “don’t visit if you come to Myanmar for Bengalis,” and “we oppose the visit if he used the word Rohingya,” several Buddhists posted on their Facebook pages.
Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw in Kachin State said a visit by Pope Francis to Myanmar is most likely, although he said he had not officially been informed.
“The Catholic bishops invited Pope Francis before the 500th anniversary of Catholicism in Myanmar in late 2014,” Bishop Gam told ucanews.com.
“Some improvements have occurred such as diplomatic relations between Myanmar and Vatican plus the appointment of an apostolic nuncio,” he said.
The Pope’s relatively last minute program change will see the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics cancel a planned trip to India after prevarication by that nation’s strongly pro-Hindu government. The proposed visit to Myanmar will precede the Pope visiting neighboring Bangladesh.
Senior Catholic sources told ucanews.com that Pope Francis will arrive in Myanmar on November 27 for four nights.
There are about 700,000 Catholics in Myanmar, served by 16 bishops, more than 700 priests and 2,200 religious.
More than 170,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia — many on risky boats — in the last five years according to the United Nations.
While Pope Francis will not visit Rakhine State, he will fly over it on the way to Bangladesh, church sources said, and probably use that time to make some sort of statement. It’s a tactic the Argentine pontiff, the first ever from outside Europe has used before.