The delicate question of the Rohingyas, the risk of destruction linked to nuclear arms, relations with China, were among the important topics of the press conference that Pope Francis gave in the plane, which took him from Dhaka, Bangladesh, on December 2, 2017. At the end of his 21st Apostolic Journey, which included Myanmar, the Pontiff affirmed: “I did not negotiate the truth.”
The Holy Father, who spoke with journalists for an hour, was questioned on his silence about the name “Rohingya,” the persecuted Muslim minority, during his stay in Myanmar, a silence that he broke in Bangladesh on December 1. “It’s not the first time that I pronounced that word in public,” he recalled. But “for me, it’s more important that the message reach.”
The name of these Bengali-speaking Sunni Muslims, who live in the north-western state of Arakan (Rakhine), is in fact very controversial. The Burmese government prohibits the term’s use and asked the Diplomatic community not to use it either.
It’s about “trying to say things bit by bit, and listening to the responses so that the message reaches . . . I realized that if I pronounced this word in official addresses, I would have slammed the door in their face. But I described the situations, the rights . . . to enable me to make progress in the private conversations.”
Putting on guard against too aggressive denunciations, which close the door to exchanges, the Holy Father expressed his “satisfaction” for having dialogued, and for having said what he thought. “And the message reached” his interlocutors, he assured.
I Did Not Negotiate the Truth
He recalled his meeting with the head of the Burmese army, General Min Aung Hlaing on November 27, the first day of his stay in the country. “In the case of the General, he asked to speak with me. I received him. I never close the door . . . One doesn’t lose anything by speaking; one always gains. That was a good conversation. I can’t give the details because it was a private exchange. But I didn’t negotiate the truth, I assure you . . . and the message reached there also.”
Of his meetings with Burmese Authorities, the Pontiff deduced that it “will not be easy to advance in a positive development and that it won’t be easy to go back.” In regard to the risk of the Rohingyas’ re-establishment, given the terrorist groups, the Pope stressed that they are “peaceful people”, but that there is always a fundamentalist group in all religions and ethnic groups.” “I didn’t speak with them; I chose to speak with their victims. Because the Rohingya people are the victims who on one hand suffer this discrimination and on the other are defended by the terrorists.”
The Message Arrived
This is how he spoke about his meeting in Bangladesh with 16 Rohingya refugees, before whom he affirmed: “The presence of God, today, is also called Rohingya.” Some were advised to be content with greeting the Pope, and not speak. “The moment arrived for them to come to greet me . . . one behind the other . . . All of a sudden they wanted to chase them from the scene. I was enervated . . . I’m a sinner and I repeated “respect, respect” and they remained there. After having heard them one by one with the interpreter . . . I said to myself: I can’t let them go without a word . . . and I began to speak . . . At that moment I cried, I tried not to show it. They also cried.”
Then the Pope suggested to pray, side by side with the Rohingyas and the religious representatives at the meeting. “And all the way, I felt the message had arrived . . . one part was planned, another came happened spontaneously. And I didn’t hear criticisms. Perhaps there were, but I didn’t hear them.”
The nuclear Issue at the Limit of Lawfulness
In the course of this press conference, the Pope paused on the question of nuclear arms, noting that “we are at the limit of lawfulness to have and use nuclear arms. Because today, with the very sophisticated nuclear arsenal, one risks the destruction of humanity or at least a great part of humanity.”
“Today,” he asked, “is it lawful to guard nuclear arsenals as they are or is it not necessary to go back to save Creation, to save humanity?”
Relations with China
The Holy Father also mentioned his desire to travel to India in 2018: this trip was planned in 2017, but was not able to be made. In regard to a trip to China, “it’s not in preparation,” he assured. “I would very much like to (go there). It’s not a secret,” he said.
He made the point regarding present relations between Beijing and the Holy See. The talks with China are of a high cultural level . . . there are cultural, scientific relations, priests that teach at the Chine State University . . . Then there is the political dialogue, especially for the Chinese Church, with this history of the Patriotic Church and the underground Church, which calls for moving bit by bit, with delicacy, as one is now doing, slowly. I believe that these days, today or tomorrow, a session of the Mixed Commission will begin at Beijing — and that, with patience. However, the doors of the heart are open.”
To evangelize, the Pontiff stressed moreover “is not to engage in proselytism.” “Evangelization is to live the Gospel, it’s to witness the way the Gospel is lived: to witness the Beatitudes, to witness Matthew 25, to witness the Good Samaritan, to pardon 70 times 7 times. And in this witness, the Holy Spirit works and there are conversions . . . When one lives with witness and respect, one makes peace. Peace is broken when proselytism begins.”
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester