Pope Francis has met a group of Muslim Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and referred to them by name for the first time on his Asian visit.
The Pope told a group of 16 refugees at an interfaith meeting in the capital Dhaka: “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”
He refrained from using the term on his earlier visit to Myanmar, which does not regard Rohingya as an ethnic group.
Some 620,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar since August.
The Pope had been criticised by rights groups for not using the term in Myanmar, whose military has been accused of ethnic cleansing by the United Nations. He had used the term before his visit.
Myanmar’s government rejects the term Rohingya, labelling the community “Bengalis”. It says they migrated illegally from Bangladesh so should not be listed as one of the country’s ethnic groups.
Pope Francis’ comment to refugees in Dhaka was made in an improvised remark and was not in his speech to the interfaith meeting.
“In the name of all of those who have persecuted you, hurt you, I ask forgiveness,” Pope Francis told the refugees. “I appeal to your large hearts to give us the forgiveness that we are asking.”
Rights groups had urged the Pope to use the term Rohingya to back the community.
However, he had been warned by Catholic representatives in Myanmar not to use the term for fear of alienating the Buddhist majority.
The number of Catholics in Bangladesh is very small. The 350,000-strong community makes up 0.2% of the population.
Earlier, the Pope ordained 16 priests at an outdoor Mass in Dhaka’s Suhrawardy Udyan park.
On the penultimate day of his Asia trip, he told the crowd: “I know that many of you came from afar, for a trip for more than two days. Thank you for your generosity. This indicates the love you have for the Church.”