Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid Sept. 27 at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters

Editorial: World must listen

  • November 16, 2017
As the world scrambles to deliver aid to more than 600,000 persecuted Rohingya Muslims, Pope Francis is flying into the face of the humanitarian and political storm.

He will visit Myanmar and Bangladesh Nov. 27 to Dec. 2 and, with the world watching, attempt to sell the people in both nations on the theme of his journey: harmony and peace.

It is a tall order. These are not Catholic countries and, in Myanmar, government and military leaders are facing world condemnation over their treatment of the Rohingya people. In recent months, hundreds of them have been murdered by the military and hundreds of thousands more have fled to squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called the crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

So sensitive is the situation that the Pope has been advised to avoid uttering publicly the word Rohingya while in Myanmar for fear of inciting even greater persecution of this historically maligned minority. He is not scheduled to meet with any Rohingya representatives in Myanmar or visit any of the Bangladesh refugee camps. But there is no doubt where he stands. 

The Pope has expressed “full closeness” to the Rohingya, calling them a “peaceful people,” our “brothers and sisters” who have been “tortured and killed” and felt “suffering for years.” He has urged Myanmar to end the persecution and grant them “their full rights.” 

Still, it is unrealistic to expect the Pope’s arrival in a non-Christian, militaristic nation to change hearts and spark an overnight solution that brings security and prosperity to the Rohingya people. That would be the ideal outcome, of course, but probably one for another day. This trip is more about the Pope living out his call for Christians to reach out to the poor and oppressed, to those on the periphery whose suffering is too often overlooked in a self-centred world. If he can spread that message, his trip will be a success.

It’s a message that needs to be heard in Canada. As our story on Page 2 points out, a late-October Angus Reid poll showed two-thirds of the country was uninterested or unaware of the Rohingya tragedy. Even when told about the persecution, 55 per cent said it wasn’t Canada’s problem. Hopefully, those numbers improved following a Nov. 10 meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Aung San Suu Kyi, the most influential civilian politician in Myanmar who, despite a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has done little to defend the Rohingya. Yet it is distressing that so much of Canadian society is unmoved by the suffering of so many.

The Pope will no doubt bring attention to that suffering when he visits Myanmar and Bangladesh. Hopefully the world will pay attention.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location