MUMBAI, India – Pope Francis is considering helping to organize a conference on the Rohingya crisis, according to Myanmar’s first cardinal.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, along with the rest of Myanmar’s bishops, met with Francis during their ad limina visit to Rome on May 8.
The ad limina visit is the pilgrimage every bishop in the world is supposed to take – usually every five years – to the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul, when they meet with the pope and Vatican officials.
Francis made Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon since 2003, a cardinal in 2015, the first from the country of 50 million people.
Since last August, the Southeast Asian country has faced its worse crisis since it held multiparty elections in 2015, which Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide.
A government campaign against the Rohingya minority has driven more than 700,000 refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh.
Speaking to Crux about the ad limina meeting, Bo said he suggested the pope help facilitate a conference to help the Rohingya.
“Regarding the situation in Rakhine State, the Holy Father has concern because they are stateless people, drifting between Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia. There are around 2 million,” the cardinal explained.
“None of the countries want to accept them. Islamic media is strong. But when the question comes of accepting them: They keep mum,” he continued.
Then Bo said he made a proposal to the pope.
“Is it possible for the Holy See through Secretariat of State to convene an international conference including the UN, EU and see how to assist these poor people,” the cardinal said he asked the pope.
“For the moment, everybody seems to condemn the Myanmar government, military and Buddhists; and no one seems to come up with assistance and suggestions,” he said he told the pontiff.
Bo told Crux that Francis said he would ask the Vatican’s Secretariat of State if it was possible to conduct such a conference.
The pope has long been concerned with the plight of the Rohingya, and has raised his voice on their behalf several times.
Last year, Francis visited Myanmar and Bangladesh, and when in the latter country, he met with representatives of the Rohingya community who had become refugees.
During the short exchanges with the community, the pope patted them on the head, held their hands and was visibly moved by what he was hearing.
“In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, of those who’ve done you wrong, above all, the world’s indifference, I ask you for forgiveness,” Francis said during the Dec. 1 meeting. “I now appeal to your big heart, that you’re able to grant us the forgiveness we seek.”
Bo said that during his ad limina meeting with the Myanmar bishops, the pope thanked them for the warm hospitality and the attention given to him during his trip to the country.
Bo said the visit to Myanmar was the work of the Holy Spirit.
“Originally India was on the list. Since the response [from the Indian government] was not forthcoming, he was inspired to visit Myanmar. He was happy that it turned that way,” the cardinal said.
Bo noted Francis did not refuse to meet anyone in the country, including the country’s senior military leader and a hardline Buddhist monk.
“About the political situation in Myanmar, one bishop requested that the Holy Father mention publicly [for people] to pray for Myanmar, especially about the civil conflicts in Kachin state,” Bo said.
The Kachin, mostly located in northern Myanmar, are a majority-Christian population. Kachin militias have been fighting for more autonomy in the region for decades.
Fighting flared up again in April, driving at least 7,400 people from their homes. On May 15, the UN expressed alarm over reports that peaceful demonstrators calling for an end to hostilities had been arrested in Kachin.
“The Holy Father responded that he would do so and asked the bishops to give him the request in writing,” the cardinal said.
Bo said that he told Francis his visit inspired the whole nation, but the situation in the country still needed the pontiff’s support and guidance.
The cardinal said he asked the pope to send a message to the leaders of Myanmar: “You are responsible for the peace in the nation.”
Bo said Francis also spoke to the Myanmar bishops about the situation with the Church in China, which borders Myanmar and has traditionally exerted influence on the country.
“He said that he is praying so that one day he could meet in China our brothers and sisters who are suffering,” the cardinal said.
Bo said the Church relates to China in three ways: By diplomacy, through the work being done by the Secretariat of State; by friendly contacts between persons connected with China and the Vatican; and by a mutual exchange of culture.
Bo also shared with Crux an exchange about the daily life of Francis.
One of the Myanmar bishops asked the pontiff about his daily schedule.
The cardinal said Francis replied: “Oh, shall I reveal the action I do every hour? Yes, I enjoy good health. I put off the light at 10.00 pm and get up at 4.00 am. Yes, it is good enough for me at this age and I enjoy good sleep and enjoy the work during the day. When sometime I could not get good sleep, those days I feel a bit weak.”
Another bishop commended the pope for his daily homilies from the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse which serves as the papal residence, and added that he “often steals from them.”
Bo said the pontiff said he preaches when he feels inspired, “But when the Spirit doesn’t inspire me, I keep quiet.”
But to the bishop who admitted to stealing his homilies, Bo said the pope said: “I should tax you!”