World Report

Embattled Myanmar hinted as destination for visit by Pope

Pope Francis is expected to focus on improving the troubles of about a million Rohingya Muslims when he visits Myanmar (Burma) in the last week of November.

The Vatican has acknowledged a possible trip is being studied, but it has said it is too early to confirm. The visit is expected to be announced officially in September.

It is believed the news has already drawn the ire of hard-line Buddhist groups in Myanmar who are said to have fanned sectarian violence and protest, especially against the Rohingya and other Muslims, over the past five years.

Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw said a visit by Pope Francis to Myanmar is most likely, although he said he had not officially been informed.

Diplomatic relations

“The Catholic bishops invited Pope Francis before the 500th anniversary of Catholicism in Myanmar in late 2014,” Bishop Gam said. “Some improvements have occurred such as diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the Vatican, plus the appointment of an apostolic nuncio.”

President Htin Kyaw also invited the Pope. Under Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, the military retains the crucial defence, border and home affairs portfolios as well as 25% of both houses of parliament.

Last year, Pope Francis said he hoped to visit India in 2017, but hesitation on the part of the Indian government led Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai to tell Vatican Radio in June that an Indian trip was unlikely before 2018. Vatican sources say the current plan calls for the Myanmar visit to precede a visit to Bangladesh.

It is believed that Pope Francis may arrive in Myanmar on November 27 for four nights.