VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis heads to Myanmar and Bangladesh with the international community excoriating the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims as "ethnic cleansing" but his own church resisting the label and defending Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the only hope for democracy.
Francis will be walking a diplomatic tightrope during his visit next week, which will include meetings with Suu Kyi, the powerful head of Myanmar's military and a small group of Rohingya in Bangladesh.
Francis has defined his papacy by frequent denunciations of injustices against refugees. He would be expected to speak out strongly against the Rohingya plight. But he is also Myanmar's guest and must look out for the well-being of his own tiny flock — just 659,000 Catholics in the majority Buddhist nation of 51 million.