In an impromptu meeting on Tuesday morning, Pope Francis urged religious leaders in Burma to work toward peace, each according to the gifts and traditions of their faith.
“Each one of you has their values, their wealth, and also their shortcomings. And each confession has its richness, its tradition, its wealth to give. And this can only be if we live in peace,” the Pope said Nov. 28.
Peace itself is built “in the chorus of differences,” he said.
On the morning of the first full day of his visit to Burma - also known as Myanmar - Nov. 27-30, Pope Francis met with religious leaders at the residence of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, in what was an unscheduled meeting.
The meeting included 17 interreligious leaders from the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Anglican, Baptist and Catholic faiths. After a short introduction from Catholic bishop John Hsane Hgyi, a leader from each faith gave a short speech, followed by the off-the-cuff address of Pope Francis.
The Pope’s visit comes amid an uptick in state-supported violence against the Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma's Rakhine State. In recent months, the violence has reached staggering levels, causing the United Nations to declare the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
In May, a senior United Nations envoy warned that the country was failing to stop the spread of religious violence.
In his discourse, Francis said that when the leaders were speaking, it brought to his mind a prayer from the Book of Psalms that says “how beautiful it is to see brothers united.”
He stressed, however, that to be united does not require uniformity, but rather that we must “understand the richness of our ethnic religious and popular differences...and from these differences” create a dialogue.
Pointing to the great geographical and natural wealth of Burma, he said they can learn from each other “as brothers,” in what ways each faith is helping to build the country.
He then thanked the leaders for coming to meet him at the place he was staying, since he was the one who had come to Burma to meet them. He also recited a few verses of the well-known prayer from the Book of Numbers, which he called “an old blessing that includes everyone.”
“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May his face shine upon you and show you his grace. May you discover his face and may he grant you peace,” he prayed.
After the meeting, Pope Francis also met briefly with the Buddhist leader Sitagou Sayadaw before celebrating Mass in private and then continuing on to his meeting with the president.