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Wednesday , December 12 2018

Pope meets Rohingya, wraps up tour of Asia – Gesture of solidarity

Pope Francis (right), prays next to Rohingya refugees during an interreligious meeting in Dhaka on Dec 1. (AFP)

DHAKA, Dec 2, (AFP): Pope Francis wrapped up a high-stakes Asia tour Saturday after meeting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in a highly symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Muslim minority fleeing violence in Myanmar.

The Catholic leader visited a hospital in Dhaka run by the order of Mother Theresa on the final day of a visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar that has been dominated by the plight of the Rohingya. Pope Francis is known for championing the rights of refugees and has repeatedly expressed support for the longsuffering Rohingya, whom he has described as his “brothers and sisters”.

The usually forthright pontiff walked a diplomatic tightrope during his four days in Myanmar — the first papal visit to the country — avoiding any direct reference to the Rohingya in public while appealing to Buddhist leaders to overcome “prejudice and hatred”.

In Bangladesh he addressed the issue head-on, meeting a group of Rohingya refugees from the squalid camps in southern Bangladesh in an emotional encounter in Dhaka. Among them was a 12-year-old girl who told him she had lost all her family in a Myanmar army attack on her village before fleeing across the border earlier this year. “Your tragedy is very hard, very great, but it has a place in our hearts,” he told them.

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