(Vatican Radio) The Vatican is following closely the plight of the Rohingya people, as Pope Francis prepares to visit Myanmar and Bangladesh at the end of November.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, confirmed on Friday that the pope raised his concerns with Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, during her private visit to the Vatican in May. He said the country’s bishops will continue to put pressure on the government to stop the attacks on Rohingya villages and to respect the rights of these suffering people.
The Vatican foreign minister discussed the plight of the Rohingyas recently with top Iranian leaders in Teheran. During that September 5th to 9th visit, he also had “very frank” discussions about the difficulties facing Christians in Iran, as well as in war torn Syria and Iraq.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Gallagher also spoke of the latest escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula, insisting that the crisis must be seen in a broader context of “unprecedented dangers” due to the worst global insecurity since the Second World War.
Archbishop Gallagher said the Holy See is “extremely concerned” about increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula. Noting that there was no formal resolution of the Korean war, he said the Holy See “remains committed to promoting a nuclear free world”, based “on an ethic of fraternity, rather than the ethics of aggression”.
Pressure on North Korea
He urged the international community to “continue to make pressure on North Korea”, adding that the Vatican offers “whatever encouragement we can”. Recalling his trips to Pyongyang 20 years ago, he said today “our channels [of communication] with North Korea are very weak indeed”.
Danger of global insecurity
Speaking of his forthcoming visit to the UN, the Vatican foreign minister stressed the need for a united approach to North Korea and other areas of conflict. He said it’s “very important for the international community to see the crisis on the Korean peninsula as also part of a general situation of great insecurity”, adding that “we should be really waking up to the great dangers which are now facing the world, unprecedented dangers since the Second World War”.
Iran's role in Syria and Iraq
Sharing details of his encounter with Iranian government leaders in Teheran, Archbishop Gallagher spoke of efforts underway in Geneva to end the Syria conflict. Asked about the future of the Christian communities in Syria and Iraq, Archbishop Gallagher replied that many of those who’ve fled the fighting will not return. Those in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, he said, will come back if there are assurances of peace and incentives, such as an initiative regarding the renewal of villages on the Nineveh plain.
Christian presence in Middle East
The Vatican foreign minister stressed that Christians play “an essential role in the Middle East, they’re a bit like the cement that holds society” together. In the midst of ethnic or religious conflicts, he said, “Christians, who’ve been there forever, need to continue to be part of that society, to be citizens like everybody else, and to make their contribution for the rebuilding of these nations”.
Difficulties for Catholics in Iran
Discussing the difficulties facing Catholics in Iran, Archbishop Gallagher said he raised these concerns openly in talks with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. He spoke of the different understandings of religious freedom, saying that the Iranian authorities were “very complimentary about the role and contribution that Christians make” but at the same time “it’s also quite clear that rules of the game are very demanding on our Christian communities”. He said he hoped his visit would draw attention to their plight and lead to future cooperation “to face some of the practical problems of these communities”.
Possible papal visit to Teheran?
Asked about the possibility of a papal visit to Iran, Archbishop Gallagher said: “I think we’re a long way from that,”. He noted the positive relations with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue but said he stressed “that good relations with the Holy See are also supposed to be reflected in good relations with local Christian communities”.
Myanmar's Rohingya crisis
The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States said he discussed the Rohingya crisis with Iran's political and religious leaders. He said both Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin raised their concerns with Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to the Vatican, noting that “her reply was in line with other things that have been said in recent days”. Cardinal Bo and local bishops, he added, will continue to put pressure on the authorities “in a very complex and difficult situation”, while the Holy See will follow developments closely in preparation for the pope’s visit there.
Pope concern for plight of refugees
Archbishop Gallagher stressed how Pope Francis has shown “great courage” in speaking out at times which could have jeopardized progress in bilateral relations. But he added, “the pope is clear that the plight and suffering of ordinary people is as important to him as the interests of the great and powerful”. Asked if the crisis could jeopardise the papal visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, he replied: “As we all know, it takes quite a lot to discourage the pope”.