Pope Francis has broken a diplomatic taboo and referred to the Rohingya people by name for the first time on his visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Following advice that the term could further inflame the situation, he had avoided using the word in Myanmar, where the Rohingya Muslims have been driven out in a savage programme of ethnic cleansing involving rape and murder. The Rohingya are not recognised as a people group in Myanmar.
Addressing an interfaith meeting in the capital Dhaka, Francis told a group of 16 Rohingya refugees: 'The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.'
He said: 'In the name of all of those who have persecuted you, hurt you, I ask forgiveness. I appeal to your large hearts to give us the forgiveness that we are asking.'
He had earlier spoken of the need for 'openness of heart', saying: 'Religious concern for the welfare of our neighbour, streaming from an open heart, flows outward like a vast river, to quench the dry and parched wastelands of hatred, corruption, poverty and violence that so damage human lives, tear families apart, and disfigure the gift of creation.'
He continued: 'How much our world needs this heart to beat strongly, to counter the virus of political 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.'
Francis addressed an audience including Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid and government officials yesterday and praised their generosity in welcoming 'refugees from Rakhine state'.
Without mentioning the Rohingyas by name, he said then: 'None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps.'
He continued by calling for help from the international community, 'not only by working to resolve the political issues that have led to the mass displacement of people, but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs.'