By Robin Gomes
"A true Way of the Cross" amid "blood and tears", "darkness”, “sorrowful memories" and mothers mourning their children. This is how Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon described the situation in his country, more than two months after the February 1 military coup deposed the legitimate government of Aung San Suu Kyi. In a message on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 11, the cardinal recalled how the coup and the bloody crackdown by security forces against protesters have exacerbated the already dire situation in the country caused by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past year. Even before the coup, millions were starving, he said.
According to figures documented and compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), as of Sunday, 706 people have been confirmed killed by security forces. The NGO said the actual casualties could be much higher as many cases await verification.
Myanmar's Way of the Cross
Cardinal Bo, who is president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Myanmar (CBCM), noted that the Church was drawn into the struggle of the people and accompanies them in their “blood and tears”. “You really walked a true Way of the Cross… For many of you, the thirteenth station of the Cross of our Mother crying over the dead body of her Son, became real,” he said. “We live in a country where hundreds of mothers live with inconsolable tears and their hearts wounded, like our Mother Mary, with the sight of their sons and daughters tortured and killed.” He prayed that the grace flowing from the heart of Jesus heal each one of them from those sorrowful memories.
Sr. Tawng’s witness
The 72-year-old cardinal particularly referred to human suffering in Myitkyina, capital of the Kachin State, in the north of the country. It was there, on February 28, that Sister Ann Nu Tawng of the Congregation of St. Francis Xavier, stunned the world when she set aside every fear and knelt down in front of the armed police and pleaded with them with folded hands not to harm the young people, saying they were protesting peacefully. Pointing to the nun’s witness, the cardinal said, "The world watched with awe at the great sacrificial witness in front of the tsunami of evil.” “I commend the witness to the redemptive love of the sister, which inspired many to appreciate the Catholic Church and the religious life. Out of the darkness, simple acts of generosity shine with great power,” said the cardinal, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
Church raids in Kachin
His remarks came in the wake of disturbing news that places of worship in Kachin state, including churches, are subjected to continuous raids and violence by the military in search of insurgents and subversive activities. While cities and towns across the country have been roiled by protests against the military, fighting has also flared between the army and ethnic insurgents in frontier regions and refugees are spilling over borders. The Vatican’s Fides news agency sources in Kachin confirmed that Baptist Christian, Catholic and Anglican churches in Mohnyin city have been raided. The military is also targeting Buddhist monasteries and temples across the country. Most of the state's 1.7 million ethnic Kachin are Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.
Overcoming dark times with mercy
As an antidote to Myanmar’s dark times and challenges, Cardinal Bo called for good deeds, words and strong prayers, which Jesus urged for in His several revelations to St. Faustina, the 20th century Polish nun who was greatly instrumental in popularizing the devotion to Divine Mercy.
Mercy starts with good deeds, the cardinal said, adding, “today, more than ever, our community stands in need of mercy,” when most of the people are starving. “We need to share our resources. However poor we are, we could share something. That is the sign of Divine Mercy.”
“Good deeds,” he said, “are needed today everywhere and the Lord of Divine Mercy reminds us not to have faith that is not matched by deeds. Thousands are around us are affected: in IDP camps, victims of the pandemic, the coup.”
The cardinal said “hundreds of people living in fear, anxiety and dread” also need comforting words and consolation, just as Jesus did when he assured his disciples saying, “Do Not be Afraid; I am with you always.” The Archbishop of Yangon said, prayers also needed to overcome the “two big mountains” of the pandemic and the coup that are suffocating the people. “Have faith, pray unceasingly. If you have the faith of a mustard seed and ask this mountain to move, it will move,” the cardinal said, referring to the words of Jesus.
Instead of taking the path of brutality, inhumanity and self-destruction, Cardinal Bo urged all to be instruments of peace after the heart of St. Francis of Assisi, assuring, “We shall overcome any darkness with the Light of Jesus.”