Pope Francis, in his annual “state of the world” address to diplomats, on Monday urged Myanmar’s military coup leaders to free political prisoners and return to the path of democracy.
The pope made his appeal as tens of thousands joined a third day of nationwide demonstrations in Myanmar against the military’s removal of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi a week ago.
Francis, 84, remained standing for nearly two hours in a sign that a recent flare-up of his sciatica that had forced him to delay the annual meeting with world diplomats by two weeks had passed.
His overview was dominated by the economic, social, medical, and political ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for global solidarity to overcome the crisis, including an equitable distribution of vaccines and guaranteed health care.
Listing various conflicts, he spoke of his “affection and closeness” to the people of Myanmar, which he visited in 2017.
“The path to democracy undertaken in recent years was brusquely interrupted by last week’s coup d’état,” Francis said.
“This has led to the imprisonment of different political leaders, who I hope will be promptly released as a sign of encouragement for a sincere dialogue aimed at the good of the country,” he said.
He noted that after a break of more than a year because of the pandemic, he would resume his international travels next month with a four-day trip to Iraq, where he is due to meet its top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Speaking of the pandemic, he said it had shone new light on the need to rethink peoples’ relationships with economic structures and the planet and adequately address the dangers of climate change.
The economic crisis had laid bare a system “based on the exploitation and waste of both people and natural resources,” he said.