On Wednesday Pope Francis made an urgent appeal for prayer on behalf for all suffering due to slavery and exploitation, pointing specifically to the minority Rohingya population of Myanmar, who have undergone violent persecution for years.
“I would like pray with you today in a special way for our brother
and sister Rohingya. They were driven out of Myanmar, they go from one
place to another and no one wants them,” the Pope said Feb. 8.
“They are good people, peaceful people, they aren’t Christians, but
they are good. They are our brothers and sisters. And they have suffered
for years,” he said, noting that often times members of the ethnic
minority have been “tortured and killed” simply for carrying forward
their traditions and Muslim faith.
He spoke to pilgrims gathered for his general audience in the
Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, leading them in praying an “Our Father” for the
Rohingya people, and asking St. Josephine Bakhita, herself a former
salve, to intercede.
Rohingya people are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group largely from the
Rakhine state of Burma, in west Myanmar. Since clashes began in 2012
between the state's Buddhist community and the long-oppressed Rohingya
Muslim minority, some 125,000 Rohingya have been displaced, while more
than 100,000 have fled Myanmar by sea.
In order to escape forced segregation from the rest of the population
inside rural ghettos, many of the Rohingya – who are not recognized by
the government as a legitimate ethnic group or as citizens of Myanmar –
have made the perilous journey at sea in hopes of evading persecution.
In 2015 a number of Rohingya people – estimated to be in the
thousands – were stranded at sea in boats with dwindling supplies while
Southeastern nations such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia refuse to
take them in.
However, in recent months tens of thousands have fled to Bangladesh
amid a military crackdown on insurgents in Myanmar's western Rakhine
state. The horrifying stories recounted by the Rohingya include
harrowing tales of rapes, killings and the burning of their houses.
According to BBC News, despite claims of a genocide, a special
government-appointed committee in Myanmar formed in January has
investigated the situation, but found no evidence to support the
In Bangladesh, however, the Rohingya have had little relief, since
they are not recognized as refugees in the country. Since October, many
who fled to Bangladesh have been detained and forced to return to the
neighboring Rakhine state.
In his audience appeal, Pope Francis also pointed out that Feb. 8
marks both the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, as well as the third
International day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking.
This year the day focuses on the plight of children, with the theme: “We
are children! Not slaves!”
Kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of 7, St. Josephine is the
event’s patron. After being bought and sold several times during her
adolescence, often undergoing immense suffering, she eventually
discovered the faith in her early 20s. She was then baptized, and after
being freed entered the Canossian Sisters in Italy.
Pope Francis noted that like modern trafficking victims, St.
Josephine was “enslaved in Africa, exploited, humiliated,” but she never
“She carried hope forward, and ended up as a migrant in Europe,” he
said, noting that it was there that she felt God’s call and became a
“Let us pray to St. Josephine Bakhita for all, for all migrants,
refugees and exploited, who suffer so much,” he said, and led pilgrims
in a round of applause in honor of the Saint.
In his audience speech, Francis continued his ongoing catechesis on
the virtue of hope, focusing particularly on its communitarian and
He noted how in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, the
apostle’s gaze was “widened” to all the different realities that formed
part of the Christian community at the time. In seeing them, Paul asked
them “to pray for one another and to support one another.”
This doesn’t just mean helping people in the practical things of
everyday life, he said, but also means “helping each other in hope,
sustaining each other in hope.”
“It’s not a coincidence that he begins by referencing those who have
been entrusted with pastoral responsibility and guidance,” because they
are “the first to be called to nourish hope,” the Pope said, noting that
this isn’t because they better than others, but because of the divine
ministry entrusted to them which “goes well beyond their own strength.”
Francis then pointed to those risk losing hope and falling into
desperation, noting that the news always seems to be full of the bad
things people do when they become desperate.
“Desperation leads to many bad things,” he said, explaining that when
it comes to those who are discouraged, weak and feel downcast due to
life’s heaviness, the Church in these cases must make her “closeness and
warmth” even closer and more loving, showing even greater compassion.
Compassion, he cautioned, doesn’t mean “to have pity” on someone, but
rather to “to suffer with the other, to draw near to the one who
suffers. A word, a caress, but which comes from the heart. This is
This witness, the Pope said, doesn’t stay closed in the confines of
the Christian community, but rather “resounds in all its vigor” even to
social and civil context outside as an appeal “not to create walls, but
bridges, to not exchange evil with evil, (but) to overcome evil with
good, offense with forgiveness.”
A Christian, Francis said, can never tell someone “’you will pay!’ Never. This is not a Christian act.”
Instead, offenses must be overcome with forgiveness so as to live in
peace with everyone, he said, adding that “this is the Church! And this
is operates Christian hope, when it takes the strong features but at the
same time the tenderness of love.”
In learning to have this kind of hope, “it’s not possible” to do it
alone, he said, adding that in ourder to be nourished, hope “needs a
body in when the various members sustain and revitalize each other.
“This means that, if we hope, it’s because many of our brothers and
sisters have taught us to hope and have kept our hope alive,” he said,
noting that among these people are “the small, the poor, the simple and
This is the case, he said, because “those who close in their own
wellbeing, in their own contentment, who always feel in place, don’t