BANGKOK, Thailand -- Pope Francis' first-ever visit by a Roman
Catholic pontiff to Buddhist-majority Myanmar which started on
November 27 will be closely watched for his reaction to the country's
bloody military campaign against more than one million ethnic Rohingya

Among the leaders he will meet during his four-day trip is Aung San
Suu Kyi whose silence about the suffering of the Rohingya sharply
contrasts with Francis' August statement lamenting the "persecution of
our Rohingya brothers and sisters."

The pope will also meet the military's Commander-in-Chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

If the Argentine-born pope mentions the Rohingya while in Myanmar, it
will embarrass and dismay his hosts.

But if he silences himself, many others will be deeply disappointed.

During the pope's November 27-30 visit, "he will speak for all
suffering people belonging to all groups present in Myanmar," Fr.
Carlo Velardo, an attache at The Holy See's Apostolic Nunciature or
embassy in Bangkok, said in an interview.

"Focusing on only one group, with due respect for those subject to
this dire situation, would not be fair to other internally displaced
persons belonging to other groups who share the same unfortunate
situation," Fr. Velardo said.

In the interview, Fr. Velardo said he was speaking in his personal
capacity and not expressing the official position of the Apostolic
Nunciature or The Holy See.

The Holy See is the Roman Catholic Church's government at the Vatican.

It established full diplomatic relations with Myanmar in May and does
not have an embassy in Myanmar.

In addition to meeting Mrs. Suu Kyi, Pope Francis will pay "a courtesy
visit" to President Htin Kyaw in the capital Naypyitaw.

He will also visit the Supreme Sanghka Council of Buddhist Monks at
the Kaba Aye Center in the commercial port of Yangon, also known as

The pope will pray with devotees at a mass on the outskirts of Yangon
and at Yangon's St. Mary's Cathedral.

The first visit by any pope to Myanmar will be followed by his
appearance in neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh on November
30-December 2 which in 1986 hosted Pope John Paul II.

Wounded, terrified and abandoned, Rohingya have been fleeing military
assaults against their impoverished villages in western Myanmar during
the past three months.

More than 600,000 of Myanmar's total 1.1 million Rohingya are
currently sheltering in
miserable refugee camps in Bangladesh.

The 400,000 who remain in Myanmar languish in resettlement camps or
fenced zones in Rakhine state suffering racial and religious
persecution, according to human rights groups.

"All the apostolic visits of the Holy Father are made in the context
of going to the peripheries, that is to meet and encourage people
that, for various reasons, are on the fringe," Fr. Velardo said.

"The theme of the apostolic visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar is in
fact 'Love and Peace'. The Pope brings his message of love, peace and
reconciliation to a land that has suffered for too long and has seen
people divided and armed against each other," Fr. Velardo said.

"The apostolic visit of the Holy Father is not a propaganda exercise.
It is an expression of his fatherly concern not only for his own flock
-- so that they may be confirmed in their faith -- but also directed
to all those who are in need of sincere encouragement in order to be
strengthened in their endeavors to emerge from their situation of
suffering," the Holy See's attache said.

The pope's Myanmar visit "is also an appeal to all those in authority
to revise their ways and work for the good of the people under their
care," Fr. Velardo said.

Pope Francis' support for the Rohingya in August was broadcast by Vatican Radio.

"Sad news has reached us of the persecution of our Rohingya brothers
and sisters, a religious minority," the pope told pilgrims and
tourists in St. Peter's Square after an Angelus prayer.

"I would like to express my full closeness to them, and let all of us
ask the Lord to save them and to raise up men and women of good will
to help them, who shall give them their full rights.

"Let us pray for our Rohingya brethren," he said, according to Vatican Radio.

About 700,000 Catholics live in Myanmar, also known as Burma,
including three archdioceses where archbishops are responsible, plus
13 dioceses under bishops, he said.

"In some areas of the northern part of Myanmar you may find a sizeable
number of Christians, both Catholics and other Christian
denominations. I can't honestly tell you why."

Mrs. Suu Kyi is foreign minister, state councilor and heads the
civilian government but does not control the military.

She is a Nobel Prize laureate but has been heavily criticized by
international human rights groups, activists, analysts and others for
refusing to publicly identify the Muslims in western Rakhine state as

She insists on calling them a Muslim minority or, in some cases,
ethnic Bengalis.

The Rohingya's identification is crucial to their fate.

Myanmar's military claims it is expelling illegal Bengali migrants who
have no right to live in Rakhine but who call themselves "Rohingya" in
a failed bid to become citizens.

Rohingya insist they are a legitimate ethnic group descended from
generations of ancestors who lived in Rakhine, also known as Arakan

Currently stateless, they are denied citizenship in Myanmar because of
widespread racial and religious hatred endorsed by many of Myanmar's

Meanwhile, a tiny Muslim insurgency led by the Arakan Rohingya
Salvation Army and backed by supporters in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and
Bangladesh have attacked Myanmar's security forces, prompting the
military's deadly response.

Mrs. Suu Kyi's defenders say she does not mention the word "Rohingya"
because she wants to stay in power and would lose support among most

The dominant, unaccountable military's Commander-in-Chief Gen. Min
Aung Hlaing, who also runs the ministries of defense, border affairs
and interior, is the person directly responsible for the anti-Rohingya

British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said on November 13 the
purge against Rohingya was "created by the Burmese military and it
looks like ethnic cleansing."

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and human rights group
Fortify Rights jointly described on November 15 "mounting evidence" of
genocide against Rohingya in a report titled, "They Tried to Kill Us
All": Atrocity Crimes Against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

"I haven't been silent," Mrs. Suu Kyi said on November 15 defending
herself against international criticism at a joint news conference
alongside U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson when he visited

"What people mean is, what I say is not interesting enough. But what I
say is not meant to be exciting. It's meant to be accurate," Mrs. Suu
Kyi said.

"No, Aung San Suu Kyi, we're upset with your refusal to acknowledge
atrocities against the Rohingya not because your statements aren't
'interesting enough' but because they are despicable," New York-based
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth tweeted on November

The pope's visit will be "fun and games built around the verboten
word, Rohingya," said Bangkok Post columnist Alan Dawson on November

Mrs. Suu Kyi is "exposed as a terrible leader, committing or condoning
the worst atrocities," Mr. Dawson wrote.