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Pope Francis' place as refugee champion tested in Myanmar

Pope Francis place as refugee champion tested in Myanmar
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VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis heads to Myanmar and Bangladesh with the international community excoriating Myanmar's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims as "ethnic cleansing" but his own church resisting the label and defending Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the only hope for democracy.

Francis will be walking a fraught diplomatic tightrope during the Nov 27-Dec 2 visit, which will include separate meetings with Suu Kyi, the powerful head of Myanmar's military as well as a small group of Rohingya once Francis arrives in Bangladesh.
Francis has defined his papacy by his frequent denunciations of injustices committed against refugees, and he would be expected to speak out strongly against the Rohingya plight. But he is also the guest of Myanmar's government and must look out for the well-being of his own tiny flock, a minority of just 659,000 Catholics in the majority Buddhist nation of 51 million. The Rev. Thomas Reese, an American Jesuit commentator, was more direct: "I have great admiration for the pope and his abilities, but someone should have talked him out of making this trip," Reese wrote on Religion News Service.
Reese argued that Francis' legacy as an uncompromising champion of the oppressed will come up against the harsh reality of blowback for Myanmar's minority Christians if he goes too far in defending the Rohingya against the military's "clearance operations" in Rakhine state.

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