Pope Reveals Details About Army Chief Meeting and Defends Avoiding Word 'Rohingya'

By The Irrawaddy 4 December 2017

YANGON — Pope Francis, who did not publicly use the word Rohingya during his recent visit to Myanmar, said he was still able to make his message clear during his meeting with Myanmar military leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

Pope Francis was in Myanmar last week as the first ever Head of the Vatican to visit the country.

During his four-day visit to Myanmar, the first person Pope Francis met upon his arrival was neither the country’s president U Htin Kyaw nor State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It was the chief of Myanmar’s powerful military Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who has been internationally accused of his army’s human rights abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

Little was revealed of the details of the meeting between the two leaders until a press conference was held by Pope Francis on board the plane on his way back to Rome on Saturday.

In the wake of the meeting, Vatican Radio reported on Monday that “they discussed the great responsibility of authorities of the country in this time of transition,” quoted Greg Burke, the director of the Holy See Office as saying.

The Senior General’s Facebook post about the meeting said the Snr-Gen explained to the Pope that there was no religious discrimination in Myanmar as the country ensures religious freedom.

When asked about the meeting on Saturday, the Pope said Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing asked him for the meeting and it was a good and civilized meeting.

“This general asked me to speak. And I received him. I never close the door…..It was a beautiful conversation. I couldn’t say because it was private but I didn’t negotiate the truth,” he said, according to a transcript of the press conference.

The meeting was initially scheduled for Thursday before the papal departure to Bangladesh. When asked about the change in schedule and if he felt he was politically manipulated by the general to show who was the most superior in the country, the Pope replied: “I don’t know the intentions but I was interested in dialogue.”

The Vatican also acknowledged that the meeting breached protocol as Myanmar’s military chief met with Pope Francis before the pontiff met with the country’s civilian leadership.

When pressed if he used the word Rohingya during the meeting with the general, the Pope replied he used the words needed to get to the message.

“When I saw the message was accepted, I dared to say everything I wanted to say,” he said by using a Latin phrase meaning ‘few words are enough for the one who understands.’

During his stay in Myanmar, the Pope also met with the country’s president U Htin Kyaw, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and leading senior Buddhist monks from Ma Ha Na, the State Sangha authority.

The pope was criticized for not using the word Rohingya while he was in Myanmar.

During the press conference on Saturday, the Pope said if he had said the word in official speeches, it would have been a door slammed in the face.

“I was very, very satisfied with the talks that I was able to have because it’s true I haven’t had the pleasure of throwing the door in a face publicly with a denunciation, but I did have the satisfaction of dialoguing and letting the other speak and in that way the message arrived.”