Pope Francis called for peace and reconciliation as he delivered Mass to around 150,000 Catholics in Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon on Wednesday, as part of his first papal trip to the country.
“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible,” he told those gathered for the open-air mass.
“Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.”
Most of Myanmar’s nearly 700,000 Catholics are ethnic minorities from the country’s restive fringes, where a number of ethnic armed groups are still at war with government forces.
Michael Salai Soe Aung, a 40-year-old from Myanmar’s western Chin State who attended the Mass, told dpa: “I’m so happy I can’t describe my feelings with words. I believe the pope brings peace wherever he goes.”
The pope has faced pressure during his trip to confront alleged atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Su Hlaing from Yangon also attended the Mass on Wednesday and said she hoped the pope’s visit could bring peace to Rakhine.
On Tuesday, the pope appeared alongside civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has faced international condemnation over a military operation that has sent 620,000 Rohingyas fleeing across the border to Bangladesh, in what the U.S. and UN have described as “ethnic cleansing.”
In an address on Tuesday in the capital Naypyitaw, the pope urged a “commitment to justice and respect for human rights” in Myanmar but did not refer to the Rohingya by name.
He also refrained from uttering the word on Wednesday.
The Catholic Church in Myanmar had urged the pontiff to respect the views of the majority of Myanmar’s population, who do not consider Rohingya to be citizens and call them “Bengali,” inferring they are from Bangladesh.
The pope is currently on a six-day trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh and will travel to Dhaka on Thursday where he will remain until Saturday.