Pope Francis begins tour of Myanmar and Bangladesh in the midst of the humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya

Pope Francis begins tour of Myanmar and Bangladesh in the midst of the humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya

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Although nothing is planned on the agenda for the first day, the Argentine pontiff could surprise with a last minute visit.

Pope Francis will begin this Monday (27.11.2017) his first visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, where he will remain until December 2. The Supreme Pontiff will first arrive in Rangoon (Myanmar) and on Thursday he will continue to Bangladesh.

The tour takes place in the context of the grave situation facing the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that was forced to escape the violence of the Myanmar Army and seek refuge in Bangladesh.

It is estimated that more than 600,000 Rohingya are in refugee camps in Bangladesh in appalling living conditions.

The military operation, which the UN has called an “ethnic cleansing”, has been put into practice since the end of August and caused the death of hundreds of people, multiple rapes and the burning of villages and crops.

Myanmar and Bangladesh reported on Thursday that they reached an agreement for the return of Rohingya refugees to the province of Rajine in Myanmar. The two nations signed a declaration of intent in this regard.

The Pope is accompanied by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni.

On Tuesday, Francisco will begin his official agenda and will meet with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the Government, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Naipyido, the capital of Myanmar.

Kolumbien Cartagena Papst Franziskus mit Beule (Reuters / S. Rellandini)

Francisco will also hold meetings with Buddhists and celebrate two Masses for the small Catholic community, which does not reach 650,000 people.

On December 30, the Pope will fly to Bangladesh for the second stage of his trip. There he will participate in an interreligious meeting, in which there will also be members of the Rohinyá minority. According to the official program, the Pope is not expected to visit one of the gigantic refugee camps.

Rohingya-Flüchtlinge in Bangladesh (picture-alliance / dpa / AP / Dar Yasin)

It is the first time that a Pope visits Myanmar, in Southeast Asia and with a Buddhist majority. Bangladesh, with a Muslim majority, received only the visit of John Paul II. In both countries there is only a small Catholic minority.

The Vatican communicated that Francisco wants to transmit a message of “reconciliation, peace and forgiveness”.

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