The Latest: Pope meets controversial Buddhist leader
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’s trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh (all times local):
Pope Francis has met with a Myanmar Buddhist leader who’s been criticized for using ethnic slurs against Muslims.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Tuesday that Francis met briefly with Buddhist leader Sitagu Sayadaw separately from an interfaith meeting with other religious leaders at the Catholic archbishop’s residence in Yangon.
Burke said the encounter was “always in an effort to encourage peace and fraternal coexistence as the only way ahead.”
Sitagu has been criticized for using slurs against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar and the target of a much-criticized military crackdown.
The Vatican says the pope stressed a message of “unity in diversity” in a 40-minute meeting with Myanmar’s Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders.
Spokesman Greg Burke said Francis told the local religious leaders they should work together to rebuild the country and that if they argue, they should argue like brothers, who reconcile afterward.
He arrived in the country on Monday and is scheduled to meet later with the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital.
Pope Francis will be meeting with leaders of Myanmar’s different religious communities at the Catholic archbishop’s residence in Yangon.
He arrived in the country on Monday and is scheduled to meet separately Tuesday with the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital.
Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist with small Muslim, Hindu and Christian populations.
The country’s most revered and prominent Buddhist leader Sitagu is not among the religious leaders expected to meet the pope on Tuesday though the monk met with Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
Sitagu has been criticized for using ethnic slurs against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar and the target of a much-criticized military crackdown.
Earlier this year, Sitagu was awarded the title ‘Honorable, Excellent, and Great Teacher of Country and State’ by the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Pope Francis begins his first full day in Myanmar traveling to the country’s capital to meet with the civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a day after hosting the military general in charge of the crackdown on the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
Francis’ speech Tuesday to Suu Kyi, other Myanmar authorities and the diplomatic corps in Naypyitaw is the most anticipated of his visit, given the outcry over the crackdown, which the U.S. and U.N. have described as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” to drive out the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s Catholic leaders have stressed that Suu Kyi has no voice to speak out against the military, and have urged support for her efforts to move Myanmar toward a more democratic future that includes all its religious minorities, Christians included.