Defend God's image by defending the Rohingya, pope urges

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) — Each human being is created in
the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with
violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, Pope Francis

“Today, the presence of God is also called
‘Rohingya,'” the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and
listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh.

“They, too, are images of the living God,” Pope
Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders
gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the crowd,
“let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of

“Let’s keeping helping” the Rohingya, he said.
“Let’s continue working so their rights are recognized. Let’s not close
our hearts. Let’s not look away.”

The Rohingya, like all people, are created in God’s image,
the pope insisted. “Each of us must respond.”

The refugees traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the
southern Bangladeshi city hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have
fled Myanmar. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into
Bangladesh since late August.

Speaking directly to them, Pope Francis said, “We are
all close to you.”

In comparison to the suffering the Rohingya have endured, he
said, the response of the people at the gathering actually is small. “But
we make room for you in our hearts.”

“In the name of all those who have persecuted you and have done you harm, especially for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness,” he said.

Pope Francis’ remarks, which he made in Italian, were
translated for the crowd and for the Rohingya. Many of them were in tears.

In his formal speech at the interreligious meeting, Pope
Francis insisted “mere tolerance” for people of other religions or
ethnic groups was not enough to create a society where everyone’s rights are
respected and peace reigns.

Believers must “reach out to others in mutual trust and
understanding,” not ignoring differences, but seeing them as “a potential
source of enrichment and growth.”

The “openness of heart” to which believers of all
faiths are called includes “the pursuit of goodness, justice and
solidarity,” he said. “It leads to seeking the good of our neighbors.”

Pope Francis urged the people of Bangladesh to make
openness, acceptance and cooperation the “beating heart” of their
nation. Such attitudes, he said, are the only antidote to corruption,
“destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye
to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are
most vulnerable.”

According to a Vatican translation, Farid Uddin Masud,
speaking for the Muslim community, told the pope, “it is compassion and
love which today’s world needs most. The only remedy and solution to the
problem of malice, envy and fighting among nations, races and creeds lies in
the compassionate love preached and practiced by the great men and women of the

Masud, a famous prayer leader and advocate of dialogue and
tolerance, is thought by some to have been the main target of a 2016 bombing at
a major Muslim prayer service in Sholakia, Bangladesh. Four people were killed.

Praising the pope for speaking on behalf of “the
oppressed, irrespective of religion, caste and nationality,” Masud
particularly cited Pope Francis’ concern for the Rohingya. He said he hoped
that the pope’s public support would strengthen international efforts to defend
their rights.

Anisuzzaman, a famous professor of Bengali literature, told
the gathering that in a world torn by strife, the pope’s message of encounter
and dialogue takes on added importance.

“Those of us who are frustrated to find the forces of
hatred and cruelty overtaking those of love and compassion can surely find
solace in the pope’s message of peace and harmony and of fraternity and
goodwill,” he said, according to the Vatican’s translation of his speech.
“We note with great relief that the pope has, time and again, expressed
his sympathy with the Rohingya from Myanmar, who have been forcibly ejected
from their home and earth and subjected to violence and inhuman treatment.”

The pope arrived at the meeting in a rickshaw after a meeting
with Bangladesh’s Catholic bishops. He had told the bishops that interreligious
and ecumenical dialogue are essential part to the life of the church in

“Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored
in a diversity of religious traditions,” he said. “Work unremittingly
to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate
communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual
energies needed for the work of nation-building in unity, justice and

The Catholic Church’s preferential “option for the
poor,” including the Rohingya refugees, is a sign of God’s love and mercy
and must continue to shine forth in concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis told
the bishops.

“The inspiration for your works of assistance to the
needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human
woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time,” Pope
Francis said.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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