Pope: Rohingya, “with the generals I have not negotiated the truth”

Pope: Rohingya, “with the generals I have not negotiated the truth”

By Andrea Tornielli/ lastampa.it

I have not negotiated the truth with the generals. I respected my interlocutors in Myanmar, but the message arrived. Pope Francis met with journalists on the return flight from Bangladesh and spoke at length about the meeting with the Rohingya, telling how he tried to hide his tears. He also explains why he did not pronounce the name of the ethnic group in Myanmar. He asked for questions about the journey, but made an exception to comment on the recent escalation and the growing threat of a nuclear conflict, by saying: “with atomic weapons, we are at the limit, creation is in danger of being destroyed. We are at the limit of lawfulness for possessing and using these weapons, because today, with such a sophisticated nuclear arsenal, we risk the destruction of humanity”

The Rohingya refugee crisis was at the center of the trip. Friday in Bangladesh you said their name. Would you have liked to be able to use that word in Myanmar?
It was not the first time I named the word Rohingya. I have done it several times, in public, in St. Peter’s Square. What I think, and what I said is known. Your question is interesting because it leads me to reflect on how I try to communicate. The most important thing for me is that the message arrives. That is why we must try to say things step by step, and listen to the answers. I was interested that this message came through. If I had said that word in the official speech, it would have been like slamming the door in the face of my interlocutors. But I have described the situation, I have talked about minority rights, so that we can go further in the private talks. I was satisfied with the talks: it is true, I haven’t had the pleasure to slam the door in public, but I was happy to dialogue, to have the other person speak and to say my own. Until the meeting and the words of Friday. It is important to worry that the message arrives: some complaints, in the media, sometimes aggressively spoken, close the dialogue, close the door, and the message does not arrive”.

What did you experience when you met with the refugees?
It wasn’t planned like this, I knew that I would meet the Rohingya, I didn’t know where and how, but this was a set condition of the trip. After so many contacts with the government and Caritas, the government allowed the Rohingya to travel, it is the government that protects them and gives them hospitality, and what Bangladesh does for them is great, it is an example of welcome. A small and poor country that has received 700 thousand people... I think of the countries that close their doors! We must be grateful for the example they give us. In the end they came, the were frightened. Someone told them that they could not tell me anything. The inter-religious encounter had prepared the heart of all of us, and it was time for them to come to greet, they walked up in line, that I did not like. But then they immediately wanted to kick them out of the scene, and I got angry there and got a bit of a grudge: I’m a sinner! I have said many times: respect! And they remained there. Then after listening to them one by one, I began to feel something inside, I couldn’t let them go without saying a word. And I started talking, I asked for forgiveness. At that moment I was crying, I tried to hide it. They cried as well. The message has arrived, not only here. Everyone got it.

Your meeting with General Hlaing, who played a role in the Rakhine crisis, aroused curiosity: why did he ask to see you earlier than expected, was it an attempt to manipulate you? Did you talk to him about the Rohingya?
I would differentiate between two types of meetings, those in which I went to visit people and those where I received people. The general asked, I received him. I’m never shutting the door, there is nothing to lose when talking, there is always a gain. I have not negotiated the truth, but I have made sure that he understood why a path such as that of the past “bad times” today cannot be pursued. It was a civil meeting. He asked to come first because he had to leave for China. If I am able to move the appointment, I do so. His intentions? I do not know. I was interested in dialogue and that it was he to come to me. Dialogue is more important than the suspicion of him wanting to say: I am the one ruling here, and I come first. With him I used words to get to the message and when I saw that the message was accepted, I dared to say everything I wanted to say. Intelligenti pauca.

In Myanmar, you met Aung San Suu Kyi, the president, the monks... What do you take with you from all these meetings?
It will not be easy to move forward in a constructive development, it will not be easy for those who want to go back. Someone has said that the state of Rakhine is very rich in precious stones and would do well if it were without people. I do not know whether this is true, it is a hypothesis that they make. But I think we are at a point where it will not be easy to move forward in a positive way and it will not be easy to go back. The UN has said that the Rohingya are today the most persecuted ethnic-religious minority in the world, it is a burden for those who want to go back. But I’m not losing hope.

You often talk about migrants: did you want to go to the Rohingya refugee camp?
I would have liked to, but it was not possible, for the time, the distance. And also for other factors. But the refugee camp came, as a representation, to me.

On the Rakhine crisis, also ISIS and the Jihadists wanted to insert themselves...
There were terrorist groups trying to take advantage of the Rohingya, who are people of peace. There is always a fundamentalist group in religions, we Catholics also have them. The military justify their intervention on the grounds of these groups. I did not choose to speak with these people, but with the victims, with the people who suffered this discrimination on the one hand, and were defended by the terrorists. The Bangladesh Government has campaigned very strongly for zero tolerance of terrorism. Those who enrolled in Isis, although they are Rohingya, are a small fundamentalist group. This is what extremists do: they justify the intervention that has destroyed good and bad people.

Aung San Suu Kyi was criticized for not talking about the Rohingya...
I heard that: they criticized her for not going to the Rakhine state, then she went there for half a day. But in Myanmar, it is difficult to evaluate a criticism without first asking: was this possible, how will it be possible to do so? Myanmar is a politically growing nation, the political situation is of transition, and for this reason, possibilities are to be evaluated also in this perspective.

John Paul II said in 1982 that nuclear deterrence was “morally acceptable”. You recently said that the possession of nuclear weapons must also be condemned. Why this change? Did the tensions and threats between President Trump and Kim Jong Un had an effect?
What has changed? Irrationality. I think of the encyclical Laudato si’, the custody of creation. Many years have passed since the time of John Paul II, and nuclear power has gone beyond that. Today we are at the limit. This can be discussed, but it is my convinced opinion: we are on the limit of lawfulness of having and using nuclear weapons. Because today, with such a sophisticated nuclear arsenal, we are in danger of destroying humanity, or at least a large part of humanity. This has changed: the growth of armaments, the most sophisticated weapons, capable of destroying people without touching the structures. We are at the limit, and I ask myself this question. It is not pontifical magisterium, but it is the question that a Pope asks himself: is it permissible to keep these nuclear arsenals as they are today? Or shouldn’t be necessary to go back to save creation and humanity? Let’s think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it happened seventy years ago. And let’s think about what happens when atomic energy is not in control. Think about the accident in Ukraine. For this reason, about the weapons that serve to win by destroying, I say: we are at the limit of lawfulness.

We know that you want to visit India, why couldn’t you go there? They expect you in 2018, millions of Indians are waiting for you…
The first plan was to go to India and Bangladesh, but then the mediations were delayed, time was pressing and I chose these two countries: Bangladesh remained but we added Myanmar. It was providential, because it takes one trip alone to visit India, you have to go to the south, to the center, to the north, for the different cultures. I hope to be able to do so in 2018, if I live.

Some people oppose interreligious dialogue and evangelization. What is the priority, evangelizing or dialogue for peace? Evangelizing means arousing conversions, which provoke tensions between believers.
First distinction: evangelizing is not proselytizing. The Church grows not by proselytism but by attraction, that is by baring witness, as Benedict XVI explained. What is evangelization? Living the Gospel and witnessing how the Gospel is lived: the beatitudes, Chapter 25th of Matthew, baring witnessing to the Good Samaritan, forgiveness seventy times seven. And in this witness, the Holy Spirit works and there are conversions. But we are not very enthusiastic about having undergone conversions: if they come, we speak, to try to find the answer to something that the Spirit has moved in our hearts before the witness of the Christian. A young man at WYD in Krakow asked me, what should I tell a university mate, who is atheist, to convert him? I replied: the last thing you have to do is “say” something. You live your gospel and if he asks you why you do this, then explain it, and let the Holy Spirit attract him. This is the strength and meekness of the Holy Spirit in conversions. Not by mentally convincing with apologetic explanations, we are witnesses of the Gospel. And the Greek word is “martyr”, the daily martyrdom, and also that of blood, when it arrives. What is a priority? When we live with witness and respect, peace is achieved. Peace begins to break when proselytism begins.

You were in Korea, the Philippines, now in Myanmar and Bangladesh, it looks like a tour around China. Is a trip to China in preparation?
The trip to China is not in preparation, relax. I have already said that I would like to visit China. It’s no secret. Negotiations with China are of high cultural level, there is an exhibition of the Vatican museums in China. Then there is the political dialogue especially for the Chinese Church: one must go step by step with delicacy, slowly and patiently. The doors of the heart are open and I believe that a trip to China will do everyone well, I would love to do it!

Were the priests you ordained on Friday afraid of becoming priests in a Muslim country?
I always have the habit of speaking to priests whom I ordain, five minutes in private. They seemed serene, calm, conscious of their mission, normal! I asked them: do you play soccer? Everyone replied: yes. I have perceived no fear

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 08:36
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