Pope Francis will almost certainly visit Burma and Bangladesh, two countries caught up in a crisis over the Rohingya Muslim minority, before the end of the year, a senior Vatican source said on Wednesday.
The trip, which would be the first time any pope has visited Burma, is due to be officially announced before the end of August, added the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The trip is likely to take place between the end of November and the start of December but definitely before Christmas, the source added. The Vatican has so far officially said only that a trip to both countries is “under study.”
A Vatican team is visiting both countries to sort out details and report back to the pope, who will make the final decision.
Burma is facing international scrutiny over atrocities against its Rohingya community. In February, Francis issued a stinging criticism of their treatment, saying they had been tortured and killed simply because they wanted to live their culture and Muslim faith.
The recent histories of Burma and Bangladesh have been linked by the Rohingya crisis.
Around 1.1 million Rohingya live in Burma’s Arakan State, but are denied citizenship and face severe travel restrictions. Many Buddhists across Burma regard them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
More than 87,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Rohingya insurgents killed nine police last year. That prompted a military crackdown, drawing allegations of rape, killings and arson by the security forces.
The Vatican, which is a sovereign state, and Burma established full diplomatic relations in May when its de facto civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, visited the Vatican. Suu Kyi assumed power in 2016 following a landslide election win after Burma’s former military leaders initiated a political transition. She is also the country’s foreign minister.
According to the country’s cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, there are about 700,000 Roman Catholics in Burma out of a population of about 51.4 million, the majority of whom are Buddhist.
Pope John Paul visited Bangladesh, which is overwhelmingly Muslim and where Catholics make up only a tiny minority, in 1986.