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What Pope Francis Told Rohingya Refugees When He Finally Met Them Today

Hundreds of thousands of new refugees have walked and run away from their homes in Myanmar over the past four months, fleeing devastating violence and destruction from the Burmese military.

Today, Pope Francis said aloud the name of those refugees, despite a widespread practice in Myanmar of avoiding it, according to the BBC.

"The presence of God today is also called Rohingya,” the pope said.

Take Action: Stand with Refugees. Raise your voice for a world that is open, equal and fair - for all people, everywhere.

The pope’s words were an important moment in his trip to southeast Asia. He spoke to a small group of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, where 620,000 members of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority have sought refuge since the violence against them began in August.

The United Nations has called the violence “ethnic cleansing” as Myanmar’s Buddhist majority have pushed the Muslim Rohingya out of the country.

The official term for Rohingya in the Burmese government is “Bengalis” — part of a political argument that says Rohingya migrated illegally from Bangladesh and are not Burmese citizens, according to the BBC.

Read More: Timeline: How the Rohingya Crisis Unfolded in Myanmar

But the Rohingya have been in present-day Myanmar since before the country existed.

Shaking hands and talking with refugees at the meeting in Bangladesh, Pope Francis said that the Rohingya’s rights should be recognized. He asked for “decisive measures” from governments to end the crisis, according to the Associated Press.

The pope visited Myanmar earlier this week and avoided using the term “Rohingya” as he was advised by Catholic leaders in the country for fear of angering local Buddhists, the AP reported.

So the pope waited instead until a meeting in Bangladesh.

"In the name of all of those who have persecuted you, hurt you, I ask forgiveness," Francis said. "I appeal to your large hearts to give us the forgiveness that we are asking."