Friday, December 01, 2017

"The Presence of God Is Called 'Rohingya'" – Meeting Refugees, Pope Pleads for "Forgiveness"

Closing out a packed day that began with a rare ordination of priests on the road, the prime diplomatic fault-line of this weeklong PopeTrip to Southeast Asia saw a closing flourish as Francis met with 16 Rohingya refugees – 12 men and four women – who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, using the charged term for the first time on this visit.

Taking place just after a gathering with local interfaith leaders at the Archbishop's Residence in Dhaka, the encounter was not a surprise – as previously noted, the plan was revealed early this week by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai (a member of the pontiff's "C-9" council of lead advisers) in a conversation with the Rome-based AsiaNews agency. Nonetheless, after Francis came in for a rare dose of wide criticism over explicitly avoiding the topic during this trek's first leg with the party responsible for the crisis, the images and tone of today's meeting – which highlighted both Papa Bergoglio's compassion and a global call to action (his second in as many days) – is likely to assuage the storm over the long haul.

Here, a house English translation of the Pope's brief, off-the-cuff message to the group – currently housed in a refugee camp – after meeting them individually:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are all close to you. There's not much that we can do because your tragedy is so great. But we make space for you in our hearts. In the name of all, of those who've persecuted you, of those who've done this evil, above all for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness. Forgiveness. Many of you have spoken of the great heart of Bangladesh which has welcomed you. Now I appeal to your great hearts, that you might be able to give us the forgiveness we seek.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Judeo-Christian account of creation says that the Lord who is God created man in his own image and likeness. All of us are this image, even these brothers and sisters. They, too, are the image of the living God. A tradition of your religions says that God, in the beginning, took a little bit of salt and tossed it into water, that was the soul of all people; and each of us carries within ourselves a little of this divine salt. These brothers and sisters carry within them the salt of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, we only have to look at the world to see its selfishness with the image of God. Let us continue to do good by you, to help you; let us continue to act so that they may recognize your rights. Let us not close our hearts, not look somewhere else. The presence of God today is also called "Rohingya." May each of us give our own response.