By Robin Gomes
As Myanmar is being tossed about “in the stormy seas of man-made disaster: of unending war, anguished displacement, inflicted starvation, death, detention and despair”, the country’s Catholic Church leader is urging his fellow citizens not to lose their faith and hope, saying “a new Myanmar of peace and justice is not impossible”. “Dear Myanmar people, this darkness will go away. Let us believe. Let us hope,” Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon urged in his homily on Sunday.
Hours later, Pope Francis followed it up with another call for peace in Myanmar. “May the Heart of Christ touch the hearts of everyone, bringing peace to Myanmar!” the Pope said in his Sunday midday ‘Angelus’ prayer in the Vatican.
“I join my voice to that of the Bishops of Myanmar, who last week launched an appeal calling the entire world’s attention to the heartrending experience of thousands of people in that country who are displaced and have been dying of hunger,” the Pope said. “We implore with all courtesy that humanitarian corridors be permitted” and that “churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples, as well as schools and hospitals” be respected as neutral places of refuge”, the Pope said citing Myanmar’s bishops.
The impoverished south-east Asian nation has been in turmoil since the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the elected government and detained its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Protests and strikes against the coup have paralyzed parts of the economy.
The coup has re-ignited Myanmar’s old conflicts between the military and some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as independent civil resistance groups. Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian. Recently, the military has shelled churches in Chin and Kayah states and arrested priests on suspicion of supporting insurgent groups.
In May, martial law was imposed on Mindat, in Chin state, after an ambush by a local resistance group inflicted heavy casualties on the army. Meanwhile, in Kayah state, three churches in Loikaw Diocese, where many civilians had taken shelter, were shelled by the military. Thousands have been displaced because of the clashes and military action.
Tossed in the stormy seas
In his homily, Cardinal Bo, who is president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) drew a parallel between Myanmar’s situation and the day’s Gospel reading where Jesus calms the stormy sea. Drawing attention to the words of Jesus – “Do you not have faith?” – the cardinal said, “To the more than 120,000 people who were displaced in the conflict zones of Mindat and Loikaw and those who were wounded inside the churches, Jesus’ words are consoling.” “Without food and medicine, with fear and anxiety, in rain and cold,” he said, “these people were tossed like the boat we see in the Gospel today.” He said that Jesus was challenging them to have faith, especially during these most difficult times when there is the temptation to lose hope.
Light on the horizon
Cardinal Bo already sees the light on the horizon with a greater mutual understanding among the Kachin, Karen, Kayah and Chin ethnic communities and their pains. “It may be long but it is dawn,” he said. Pain has united us in common humanity. This took seventy years. But this has happened. A new Myanmar of peace and justice is not impossible”, he said.
Cardinal Bo, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), thus urged the people to be steadfast in faith and hope, and pray so that the “rocks of injustice” may melt. “Guns,” he said, “will never solve this country’s problems." "Only change of hearts can heal this long-suffering nation.” “Let us all ‘enter the battlefield of prayer- become prayer warriors!’” he exhorted. He also urged prayers for the army, “for every soldier who holds a gun”, so that their hearts melt and they understand that their “violence is not against any enemy nation” but “against our own people”.