Pope Francis joins prayer service at Suhrawardy Udyan


Pope Francis called on Thursday for "decisive" worldwide action on the Rohingya refugee crisis as he began a visit to Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 of the Muslim minority have sought sanctuary after fleeing violence in Myanmar. "Let us continue to work to ensure that their rights are recognised", he said.

His comments to the Rohingya came after Francis led a giant open-air mass in Dhaka.

The pope looked sombre as each member of the group, which included 12 men and four women, including two young girls, told him their stories through interpreters at the end of the gathering.

"In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, of those who've done you wrong, above all, the world's indifference, I ask you for forgiveness", Francis told the refugees. The violence escalated late August, when the military responded to an attack by Rohingya militants with a heavy crackdown.

Mainly-Muslim Bangladesh has a tiny Christian population but they turned out in large numbers for Friday's service, many having queued for hours to get into the park where some 4,000 police and security forces had been deployed.

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The United Nations' top human rights official has called the situation "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing." .

Earlier on Thursday, Pope Francis arrived here on a three-day state visit, aiming to promote peace and reconciliation. Most Rohingya are stateless and seen as illegal immigrants by Buddhist majority Myanmar. The pontiff arrived in Myanmar on November 27 where he held meetings with President U Htin Kyaw, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Army General Min Aung Hlaing and representatives of different faiths.

Although he has used the word "Rohingya" in the past, Francis chose to listen to the advice of Myanmar's cardinal and refrain from using it during his time in Myanmar this week.

On Friday, the Pope is expected to meet a group of Rohingya refugees, as well as hold talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Aid workers had brought the Rohingya to the pope's interfaith meeting from refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, on the border with Myanmar, Reuters reported.

"None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the huge toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps", he said.