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YANGON, Myanmar – The Latest on Pope Francis' visit to Myanmar (all times local):
The Vatican is denying that Pope Francis has lost his moral authority after he declined to publicly call out Myanmar's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said critics are allowed to opine about the pope's decision, saying "Vatican diplomacy isn't infallible."
Human Rights Watch and Rohingya themselves have said they were disappointed by Francis' decision in a speech to Myanmar leaders on Tuesday not to cite the Rohingya by name or even directly refer to what the U.N. and U.S. have said is a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" by the military in Rakhine state. The campaign has forced more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they have reported entire villages in Myanmar being burned and looted and women and girls raped.
Burke told a news conference Wednesday: "I know the pundits are out there with all their opinions. I find it really hard to think the moral authority of the pope has somehow diminished."
Pope Francis has urged Myanmar's religious leaders and ordinary faithful to help the country heal its old wounds, preaching a message of forgiveness and tolerance as the country emerges from military dictatorship and seeks to make peace with its many ethnic minorities after decades of conflict.
At an open-air Mass, an audience with Myanmar's senior Buddhist monks and during an encounter with his own Catholic bishops, Francis sought to encourage greater dialogue and understanding at a delicate time of transition in the predominantly Buddhist South Asian nation.
"I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible," Francis told a huge open-air Mass in Yangon's Kyaikkasan Ground park. While the temptation is to respond with revenge, Francis urged instead a response of "forgiveness and compassion."