As the world gets caught sleeping again during a horrible developing genocide, courage is again in short supply on the part of world leaders. The Armenians and Syrian Christians in Turkey in the early 20th century, the Jews in the Holocaust, Cambodia at the end of the 1970’s, Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia in the 1990’s. It goes on and on, not only of course in the last 100 years but all though history. Now the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar (Burma) are facing a continued horror with over 620,000 having fled already to neighboring Bangladesh.
In the last two days, Pope Francis has been in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and spoke to a meeting of 100,000 Christians in the heart of the city. He was the first Pope to visit Muslim-majority Bangladesh in 31 years, and led a Mass for the primarily Catholic audience. Our close friend was there at the meeting, and a friend of his took the photo accompanying this blog post, with the Pope in a bicycle rickshaw. In his message, the Pope praised the nation of Bangladesh, saying “This has been done at no little sacrifice. It has also been done before the eyes of the whole world.” The Pope also called on other countries to “offer immediate material assistance to Bangladesh.”
After this public meeting, Pope Francis met personally with 16 Rohingya refugees, including two children. At that meeting, he is reported to have said that “The Presence of God is also called Rohingya.” He had been criticized by some for not using the name Rohingya when he spoke in Myanmar. But other reports said that the Archbishop of the Church there asked him not to, fearing a backlash on the local Christian believers. Walking these tightropes diplomatically and yet speaking fearless for the oppressed is doubtless an extremely difficult venture.
A wonderful testimony to the Pope’s ability to touch the hearts of Muslims also comes from a leading Bangladeshi Muslim cleric, Farid Uddin Masoud, who attended the meeting in Dhaka. He said, “The Pope is respected across the globe, not by Christians alone, for being a champion of the poor and oppressed people… so we will strongly expect him to speak for the oppressed Rohingya.” Yes, what a powerful (and truly Christian) testimony, to speak up for the oppressed and needy.
For those reading this who would like to contribute to the needs of these Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, that face such dire conditions in many camps, write me in the comment box on this blog and I can send you information on ways to give.
And may the blessing of God come upon the nation of Bangladesh, a blessing that I believe comes to nations and peoples that open their doors to the oppressed and needy.