Pope Francis. Photograph:( Reuters )
Pope Francis on Saturday explaned why he had avoided the use of the term "Rohingya" on the first leg of his trip in Myanmar.
The pontiff said he knew that had he used the word in official speeches, Myanmar's military leaders wold have "closed the door in our faces" and that he wanted to be allowed to go "further in the private meetings."
"I knew that if in the official speeches I would have used that word, they would have closed the door in our faces. But (in public) I described situations, rights, said that no one should be excluded, (the right to) citizenship, in order to allow myself to go further in the private meetings," he told reporters aboard the plane returning to Rome from Bangladesh.
The pope said he believed he got his message across to both the civilian and military leadership without shutting down dialogue, Reuters reported. (Also Read: Myanmar social media anger after Pope says 'Rohingya')
He also indicated that he had been firm with Myanmar's military leaders in private meetings about the need for them to respect the rights of Rohingya refugees.
"For me, the most important thing is that message gets through, to try to say things one step at a time and listen to the responses," he said.
The pope met Myanmar's military leaders privately on Monday, shortly after his arrival in the nation's biggest city, Yangon.
About his meeting with the military leaders, Pope Francis said, "It was a good conversation and the truth was non-negotiable."
Asked if he used the word Rohingya during the private meeting with the military chiefs, the pope said: "I used words in order to arrive at the message and when I saw that the message had arrived, I dared to say everything that I wanted say".
He then gave a reporter a mischievous grin and ended his answer with the Latin phrase "Intelligenti Pauca," which means "Few words are enough for those who understand," strongly hinting that he had used the word the military detests while in their presence.
Myanmar, predominantly a Buddhist country, does not consider the Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group with its own identity but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Local Roman Catholic Church authorities had advised him not to say the word "Rohingya" because it could spark a backlash against Christians and other minority groups.
On Friday in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, Francis held an emotional encounter with Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and then used the word Rohingya for the first time on the trip, although he had defended them by name twice from the Vatican earlier this year.
He also disclosed that he cried when he met a group of Rohingya refugees on Friday in Bangladesh, where he defended their rights by name in an emotional meeting.
He told the crowd where the Rohingya were that God's presence was within them and they should be respected.
"I was crying and tried to hide it," Francis said on the plane, recounting how moved he felt when the refugees recounted their ordeals to him.
About 625,000 Rohingyas have escaped from Myanmar to Bangladesh following a military crackdown in response to Rohingya militant attacks on an army base and police posts on August 25.
Refugees have said scores of Rohingya villages were burnt to the ground, people were killed and women were raped. The military have denied accusations of ethnic cleansing by the United States and United Nations.
(With inputs from Reuters)