Pope, Myanmar leader meet, launch diplomatic relations

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Shortly after Pope Francis met
privately with Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Holy See and
Myanmar announced they were establishing full diplomatic relations.

The Vatican announced May 4 that the pope would appoint a
nuncio to the southeast Asian nation and that Myanmar would name an ambassador
to the Vatican. The agreement brings to 183 the number of countries with which
the Holy See has full diplomatic relations.

Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in
1991, had spent almost 15 years of the period between 1989 and 2010 under house
arrest. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won the general election
in 2015 and she was named the de facto head of government in April 2016.

Welcomed to the Vatican by Pope Francis, Suu Kyi
took his hand and bowed her head. She and the pope met privately for more than
20 minutes before her entourage entered the papal library.

She gave Pope Francis a small bas relief of a dove and Pope
Francis gave her a new medallion illustrating a passage from the Book of
Isaiah, “The wilderness will become a fruitful field.”

“The dry thorny branch that blossoms and bears fruit
symbolizes the passage from selfishness to sharing, from war to peace,”
said a Vatican description of the medallion.

Suu Kyi has won international support for her
efforts to shore up Myanmar’s fledgling democracy after decades of military
rule, but serious questions have been raised about her government’s treatment
of the Rohingya people, who are Muslim.

Pope Francis has appealed for their protection on several
occasions. At a general audience Feb. 18, the pope said the Rohingya “are
good people. They are our brothers and sisters. They have been suffering for
years. They have been tortured, killed, just because they want to keep their
traditions and their Muslim faith.”

The 2017 annual report of the U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom labeled Myanmar one of 16 “Tier 1”
countries of particular concern based on their level of religious repression.

According to the Vatican’s latest statistics, Myanmar has
about 659,000 Catholics out of a population of about 51 million.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article