November 27, 2017
Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown

YANGON, Myanmar — Pope Francis landed in Myanmar, and a diplomatic minefield, on Monday.
In his first visit to both the country and a majority-Buddhist nation, the pope will seek to strike a careful balance by maintaining his moral authority without endangering his tiny local flock in a political climate made hazardous by the popular persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the nation’s military.
The United Nations, the United States and others have denounced the murder, rape and pillaging of the Rohingya in the country’s west as ethnic cleansing, but the pope has been advised by the Roman Catholic Church here not to say their name, for fear of aggravating the situation or being exploited for domestic politics.
In a last-minute change of plans, Pope Francis moved up a meeting with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the military’s leader, to Monday evening at the archbishop’s residence, where the pope is staying. Francis is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the government.

Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown

Many consider Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi complicit for her silence in the face of the slaughter, but the pope’s allies have urged him to lend his support — and they hope political strength — as the country’s best chance to prevent a backslide into absolute military rule.
But the Constitution, written by the military, puts the armed forces out of her control. And the military has enough support in Parliament to prevent any reforms that could loosen the grip on power held by General Min Aung Hlaing, who has ambitions to run the country.
So for Francis, the first meeting may be the more important. And he has to manage all these competing agendas without a misstep that could endanger Myanmar’s Christians, who make up about 1.3 percent of the population.
If the gravity of the task weighed on him, he did not show it on the flight from Rome.
On the plane, Francis seemed in good spirits, apologizing beforehand for the scorching temperatures in Myanmar and announcing, “Now I will salute you.” He also walked through the cabin, gamely signing books and accepting the trinkets of reporters.

Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown

Upon arriving in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, Francis was greeted on the tarmac by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, followed by local bishops and a delegation of children in traditional clothing.
As he left Yangon Airport in a Toyota Mark II Grande sedan, he rolled down the window to wave at hundreds more children cheering, “Viva, Papa” next to curious backpackers and wary security officials. The surrounding streets were lined with young people in white T-shirts and yellow hats with the trip’s official emblem, a heart under the motto “Missionary of Love and Peace.” Some waved Vatican flags and had its yellow-and-white colors painted on their cheeks.
Those crowds quickly thinned, though signs on lampposts extended “A Heartiest Welcome to the Holy Father Pope Francis, Missionary of Love and Peace.”
Copies of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, made available on the plane, featured a front-page interview with Cardinal Bo, in which the prelate said that the pope “will arrive in a moment in which the country is in the news because of the migration of thousands of people.”

Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown

There is great hope that his presence will succeed in melting the heart of everyone and push the country towards a lasting peace,” he said in the interview.
That semantic flexibility — migration instead of ethnic cleansing, Muslims of Rakhine State instead of Rohingya — has introduced a degree of diplomatic absurdity into the visit, especially for a pontiff who has a reputation for speaking his mind.
In a certain sense, the trip may be a needless headache for Francis.
After a visit to India fell through, Myanmar filled a hole in the pope’s schedule. The trip was meant in part to celebrate and solidify the new diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Myanmar established during Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s stop at the Holy See in May.

Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown

As the onetime darling of the humanitarian community and democracy activists, she was already starting to come under criticism then for the poor treatment of the Rohingya. The situation has since deteriorated, and her reputation has sunk as she has failed to confront a military crackdown on the Rohingya — or “those who have crossed over to Bangladesh,” as she has called them.
The United Nations and the United States have called the Muslim minority the victims of ethnic cleansing. More than 600,000 of them have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
But the church’s leaders in Myanmar, especially Cardinal Bo, whom Francis elevated in 2015, have argued that the pope must invest in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, as she is perhaps the country’s last, and best, chance to proceed on a road to democracy and the protection of civil rights.
Francis is scheduled to fly to the capital, Naypyidaw, to meet her on Tuesday.

Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown

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