So for Francis, his first meeting here with the general, which was added at the last minute, might well be the more important one.
“It’s smart to meet the commander in chief first, because he is very important and the principle person to solve this challenge facing our country,” said Dr. Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city.
According to the Vatican, the meeting with the general and top commanders from the Bureau of Special Operations lasted about 15 minutes and was a “courtesy visit” at the residence of the local archbishop, where Francis is staying.
Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesman who is traveling with the pope, said they had discussed “the great responsibility of the country’s authorities in this moment of transition.”
The pope then gave the general a medallion commemorating his visit. The general gave the pope an ornate rice bowl and a harp in the shape of a goat.
The timing of the meeting suggested that the pope was mindful of the egos and agendas that he must navigate without making a misstep that could endanger Myanmar’s 700,000 Catholics, who make up about 1.3 percent of the population.
If the gravity of the task weighed on him, he did not show it on the flight from Rome.
On the plane, Francis seemed in good spirits, apologizing beforehand for the scorching temperatures in Myanmar and announcing, “Now I will salute you.” He also walked through the cabin, gamely signing books and accepting the trinkets of reporters.