People gather inside St. Mary's Cathedral in 2011 in Yangon, Myanmar. Church sources say they expect Pope Francis to visit in late November. CNS photo/EPA

Pope Francis planning to visit Myanmar, say unconfirmed reports

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  • August 8, 2017

YANGON, Myanmar – Pope Francis is expected to focus on trying to improve the troubles of about a million ethnic Muslim Rohingya when he visits Myanmar the last week of November, reported ucanews.com.

The Vatican has acknowledged a possible trip is being studied, but it has said it is too early to confirm the trip. 

The news has already drawn the ire of hard-line Buddhist groups in Myanmar who have fanned sectarian violence and protest, especially against the Rohingya and other Muslims, over the past five years, according to ucanews.com.

Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw said a visit by Pope Francis to Myanmar is most likely, although he said he had not officially been informed.

"The Catholic bishops invited Pope Francis before the 500th anniversary of Catholicism in Myanmar in late 2014," Bishop Gam was quoted. "Some improvements have occurred such as diplomatic relations between Myanmar and Vatican, plus the appointment of an apostolic nuncio." 

One senior clergyman with knowledge of the Pope's visit told ucanews.com: "The main impetus behind the pope visiting is to try and help the government make peace with the Rohingya and improve their plight." 

President Htin Kyaw also invited the Pope. Observers believe that the unexpected move by Myanmar's civilian-led government was driven by its desire to skirt the powerful military, with which it effectively shares power. Under Myanmar's 2008 constitution, the military retains the crucial defence, border and home affairs portfolios as well as 25 per cent of both houses of parliament.

Last year, Pope Francis had said he hoped to visit India in 2017, but hesitation on the part of the Indian government led Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai to tell Vatican Radio in June that an Indian trip was unlikely before 2018. 

Senior Catholic sources were quoted as saying Pope Francis would arrive in Myanmar Nov. 27 for four nights.

According to information shared with top clergy in late July, the Pope is expected to first visit the capital, Naypyitaw, where he will meet President Htin Kyaw and Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and foreign affairs minister and the country's de-facto leader.

Sources said Pope Francis will celebrate a large open-air Mass in the country's largest city and business capital, Yangon.

Most of the Rohingya population in Myanmar's Rakhine state have been denied citizenship. About 120,000 of them are trapped in internally displaced person camps near the state capital, Sittwe. A further 400,000 live in the state's north, which is currently under martial law.

Media are forbidden to travel to the region, but reports of atrocities by the military, including rape, murder and burning villages, have leaked out over the past year.

The United Nations says more than 170,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia — many on risky boats — in the last five years.

According to information shared with top clergy in late July, the Pope is expected to first visit the capital, Naypyitaw, where he will meet President Htin Kyaw and Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and foreign affairs minister and the country's de-facto leader.

Sources said Pope Francis will celebrate a large open-air Mass in the country's largest city and business capital, Yangon. 

Most of the Rohingya population in Myanmar's Rakhine state have been denied citizenship. About 120,000 of them are trapped in internally displaced person camps near the state capital, Sittwe. A further 400,000 live in the state's north, which is currently under martial law.

Media are forbidden to travel to the region, but reports of atrocities by the military, including rape, murder and burning villages, have leaked out over the past year. 

The United Nations says more than 170,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia — many on risky boats — in the last five years.

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