1. Pope Francis’ Dilemma in Myanmar: Whether to Say ‘Rohingya’.

By Jason Horowitz, The New York Times, November 27, 2017, Pg. A11

Pope Francis received a special plea this month in the Vatican from Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar, the overwhelmingly Buddhist nation where the pope will make his 21st, and perhaps most politically perilous, foreign trip beginning Monday.

Don’t say “Rohingya.”

“It is a very contested term, and the military and government and the public would not like him to express it,” Cardinal Bo said in an interview during which he himself avoided using the word, referring only to Muslims who are suffering in Rakhine State.

The Rohingya are persecuted and stateless Muslims in western Myanmar who are — according to the United Nations, the United States and much of the global community — the victims of ethnic cleansing, mass murder and systematic rape at the hands of the Myanmar military and extremist monks.

The Myanmar trip would seem to present the pope an opportunity to reassert his status as the world’s moral compass by condemning the violence against the Rohingya. Many hope he will do just that.

But Cardinal Bo said that Francis had gotten the message. “He understands better now the situation,” Cardinal Bo said.

The situation, as it were, is a political, sectarian and religious minefield that some supporters of Francis worry poses a no-win scenario even for a political operator as deft as he is.

The reputational cost of silence on the persecution on the Rohingya is already being paid by Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi appears to have no power, and no voice, to stop the attacks on the Rohingya.

Cardinal Bo, an ally of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s, has argued that she remains the country’s best hope for democracy and that the pope, who is scheduled to meet her on Tuesday in the capital, Naypyidaw, should show his support in the hopes of giving her more leverage to sway the military.


2. Pope Francis to visit Myanmar, carefully confront Rohingya Muslim crisis.

By Richard S. Ehrlich, The Washington Times, November 27, 2017, Pg. A1

The first-ever visit by a Roman Catholic pontiff to Buddhist-majority Myanmar on Monday will be closely watched for how Pope Francis confronts the country’s bloody and internationally condemned military campaign against more than 1 million ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

It will be an unusually delicate diplomatic trip for the Argentine-born pope. The U.S. and countries in the region still are trying to formulate a policy to curtail one of the world’s biggest refugee and humanitarian crises.

The highlight of the pontiff’s three-day trip starting Monday will be talks with de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the once-acclaimed Nobel Peace Prize winner whose silence about the suffering of the Rohingya sharply contrasts with Francis’ statement in August lamenting the “persecution of our Rohingya brothers and sisters.”

If the Argentine-born pope stresses the Rohingya crisis while in Myanmar, it will embarrass and dismay his hosts. But if he silences himself, many others will be deeply disappointed. Compounding the pressure, the pope has been an outspoken critic of European nations that have tried to close their borders to a flood of refugees fleeing crises in Syria, Afghanistan and other hot spots.

The Vatican announced Wednesday that the pope’s itinerary will include a private meeting with Myanmar’s military chief and an “interreligious” meeting with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh after he leaves Myanmar. Myanmar’s Catholic leaders have urged the pope not to use provocative language when describing the Rohingya crisis, but it was Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo who reportedly proposed adding the meeting with military leaders to the pope’s schedule.

Bangladesh and Myanmar on Thursday announced a tentative deal to establish a system for allowing Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, but the process could take years and will do little to ease the immediate humanitarian crisis.


3. For the Pope’s Trip in Asia, a Delicate Balance: A focus on the Catholic Church’s ‘peripheries’ brings Francis to the doorstep of the Rohingya crisis.

By Francis X. Rocca and  Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2017, Pg. C3

The trip to Myanmar, the first by any pope, comes amid a delicate transition from decades of military dictatorship to democracy…. Under military rule that began in 1962, Catholics were doubly disadvantaged, since jobs in the government and military were largely restricted to Buddhists of Bamar ethnicity.

The situation has partly eased since the military’s attempt at democratic transition began in 2011, and especially since the party of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi formed a government last year.…Cardinal Bo has been one of Ms. Suu Kyi’s most vocal champions, even amid criticism of her failure to denounce the military’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority, whom the government has generally viewed as foreign interlopers.

The church is trying to strike a fine balance in Myanmar: The pope has spoken on behalf of the Rohingya, but Cardinal Bo and others are encouraging him on this trip to avoid the very word, and to call them instead the “Muslims of Rahkine State.” 

For many minorities marginalized under the military regime, “only the church provides the basics of school, medical care and even food,” said the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of the influential Catholic magazine Asia News.

Such efforts help the church to be perceived as a neutral voice and advocate for social justice and workers’ rights. Only weeks into his pontificate in 2013, Pope Francis weighed in on the collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory that left hundreds dead, denouncing conditions at the factory as “slave labor.”

Bangladesh is where most Rohingya refugees have fled; the church’s charitable arm, Caritas Bangladesh, says it is spending about $2.7 million to aid 12,000 Rohingya families. The pope plans to meet with some Rohingya there, though not in Myanmar. Cardinal D’Rozario says Pope Francis will “look to inspire a dialogue between different religions and cultures and between the rich and the poor.”


4. Pope Issues Fresh Call for Open-Door Policy Toward Migrants: Pope Francis says anti-immigration political movements sow violence, racial discrimination, xenophobia.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2017, Pg. A6

Pope Francis denounced anti-immigration political movements for “sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia,” and issued a fresh call for an open-door policy toward migrants.

The pope’s statement, released Friday and intended for the coming World Day of Peace on Jan. 1, comes amid a hardening of sentiment against migration in the U.S. and Europe, where right-wing parties advocating a tough line toward new arrivals have staged a strong showing in elections this autumn.

It also comes just two days before the pope’s departure for Myanmar, where his advocacy for Muslim Rohingya refugees has put him at odds with the government and his own bishops there.

The pope’s stance on migrants and refugees, a signature theme of his pontificate, isn’t universally popular among Catholics, or even among the church’s hierarchy. Bishops in Eastern Europe haven’t generally welcomed the pope’s call for churches across the continent to sponsor refugee families, and a number of the bishops have publicly voiced concern about Muslim immigration. In Catholic Poland, the government refused to participate in an EU relocation program for refugees.


5. Pope’s South Asia trip brings hope to tiny Catholic groups.

By Julhas Alam, Associated Press, November 25, 2017, 9:16 PM

Pope Francis on Monday begins a six-day trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh. While attention will focus on how Francis addresses the Rohingya Muslim crisis, the trip also holds huge significance for the tiny Catholic communities in each country.

Those Catholics face obstacles that include discrimination, an inability to land leadership roles and threats of violence. 


There are 660,000 Catholics in Myanmar, just over 1 percent of the population of 53 million… But when the socialist government took power in 1965, most Catholic-based missionary schools, boarding houses and properties were seized by the military at gunpoint. 



Myanmar Catholic leaders say that as members of one of the smallest religious groups in a country dominated by Buddhism, they face discrimination, even if it isn’t typically overt threats or torture.

But unlike Rohingya Muslims, Christians haven’t faced widespread violence and persecution. Christian leaders say they’re afforded “peaceful coexistence” and an understanding the government won’t interfere.



The Catholic Church runs about 300 boarding houses across Myanmar, hosting children from villages who can’t afford to go to school. It’s done without any significant support from the government in a country that remains among the poorest in the world.

But Catholics don’t play a broader leadership role in society.



The profile of Catholics was boosted when Archbishop Charles Maung Bo became Myanmar’s first Roman Catholic Cardinal in 2015. And they are getting another boost by having a pope visit the country for the first time. 



There are just 375,000 Catholics in Bangladesh, a tiny fraction of the population of 158 million.



The pope’s visit takes place against a backdrop of religious tensions after radical Muslims attacked or threatened to attack Christian priests and their followers in Bangladesh. Last year before Christmas, many churches said they got phone calls or letters threatening dire consequences because of their attempts to spread Christianity.



Christian leaders in Bangladesh say they hope the pope’s visit will highlight a range of issues from religious solidarity to a warming planet.

The pope posted a video message ahead of his visit.

“We are living at a time when religious believers and people of goodwill are called to foster mutual understanding and respect,” the pope said. “And to support each other as members of our one human family.”


6. Countering Genocide: The Importance of Prayer and Aid for the Persecuted: The entire Church — pastors and their flocks — is encouraged to ‘express their solidarity through prayer, sacrifices’ and financial help for Christian communities.

By National Catholic Register, November 25, 2017, Editorial

The savagery of the Islamic State’s two-year assault on Christian and Yazidi men, women and children led the Obama administration to declare that the terrorist organization had committed genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East.

The March 17, 2016, designation of ISIS’ campaign as a crime against humanity, followed by a bipartisan genocide resolution passed by Congress, inspired fresh hope that the terrorists’ victims would finally obtain the security, legal protection and humanitarian assistance they needed before they could return to their ancestral communities.

Yet today, with the terrorist organization holding just 5% of the territory it once dominated in Iraq and Syria, displaced Iraqis in Erbil and those returning to shattered neighborhoods elsewhere have received little or no assistance from the U.S. government or the United Nations.

Instead, they depend on the generous, but limited, services covered by the Knights of Columbus and other faith-based nonprofits like Aid to the Church in Need and Catholic Relief Services, working in tandem with local Church leaders and Caritas.

If this desperate state of affairs continues, Catholic leaders and activists have warned, these Christians, who have too few means to rebuild their own lives, and Christianity, with its two-millennia-old heritage, will likely be extinguished from the Middle East — just as ISIS had planned.

This watershed moment should prompt an examination of conscience in the corridors of power in Washington, the chanceries of U.S. dioceses and the homes of the faithful. And to aid that process of critical spiritual and moral reflection, advocates for persecuted Christians have organized a week of prayer and activism this month that will highlight the crisis facing our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

A coalition of U.S. lawmakers, Church groups and activists has mounted an uphill battle to change U.S. policy and provide specific aid to genocide victims. The coalition includes the Knights of Columbus, which already has raised millions of dollars to aid genocide victims, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom,  and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who have sponsored critical legislation designed to help religious minorities targeted by ISIS: H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017.

In late October, this coalition’s hard-fought efforts secured a key victory. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration would now depend on USAID to funnel aid to genocide victims. “Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew,” the vice president said. “Help is on the way.”

The new policy will take effect by March, with the expectation that USAID will direct federal dollars to faith-based organizations, which will partner with other international and local Church groups to assist embattled religious minorities.

Indeed, the festering humanitarian and security crisis in the Middle East reminds us that the work initiated by the Knights of Columbus and Rep. Smith isn’t over yet. Some would say it is just beginning. The U.S. Senate must still pass its version of H.R. 390 and thus give legislative support for aid to ISIS’ victims.


7. Pope Francis condemns “wanton brutality” of Egyptian mosque attack.

By Associated Press, November 24, 2017

Pope Francis sent a message saying he is “profoundly grieved to learn of the great loss of life caused by the terrorist attacks on the Rawda mosque in North Sinai.”

Militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers in the Sinai Peninsula, setting off explosives, spraying worshippers with gunfire and killing at least 235 people in the deadliest ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt.

The attack targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of Islam’s mystical movement, in the north Sinai town of Bir al-Abd. Islamic militants, including the local affiliate of the Islamic State group, consider Sufis heretics because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.

The message – sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin – expressed the pope’s solidarity with the Egyptian people, and commended the victims of the attack to the mercy of God.