By Robin Gomes
Those wielding authority cannot gain legitimacy unless they serve the people, failing which power becomes idolatry, which the Bible condemns, said Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon on Sunday. Delivering a homily in his cathedral, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar took stock of the dire situation that the military junta has plunged Myanmar into, overthrowing the nation’s legitimately elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi with a coup on February 1.
For 7 months now, the ensuing anti-junta protest and civil disobedience movement has brought the nation to its knees, with severe economic hardship, lack of livelihood and massive disruption in the supply of essential goods and services. The security force has been cracking down on protesters and dissidents. The military’s re-ignition of old conflicts with armed ethnic groups and its clashes with local defence forces have displaced thousands.
The situation has been compounded by a devastating surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths, while the services of the Military-controlled Health Ministry are practically non-existent.
Cardinal Bo noted a slowdown in the severity of Covid-19 but cautioned against lowering their guard. “We need to stand together because we face so many evil forces at the same time.” He sadly remembered the nearly 13,000 who perished in the pandemic, among them more than 100 writers, artists and other creative persons. Some 360000 people who are infected are struggling for life. He prayed that the pandemic may end and that people can emerge from the multiple challenges and be healed.
The 72-year-old cardinal thanked the country’s healthcare professionals, front line workers and volunteers in the care centres for their “greatest humanitarian witness”. “Once again,” he said, “the Myanmar people have proven themselves to be the greatest witness to their generous giving”, with many people reaching out to the affected people and many businessmen setting up care centres, “God,” he said, “will reward them a hundredfold.”
Legitimacy of power in service
Cardinal Bo did not mince words in taking a swipe at those holding power. “According to the Bible, every government is for service,” he said, evoking the model Christ. “Every government that does not get its legitimacy from service to the people, has not drawn it legitimacy from God. The whole exercise is an exercise in idolatry, condemned by the Bible.
“In any just country, the government is not above the people. A nation is built on justice. Anything else is idolatry.” Instead, he said, real power comes from service, not by imposing power on the innocent, as Pope Francis often says.
The cardinal, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), pointed out that Myanmar is no exception to idolatry. He recalled that the nation was born with the great dream of peace and prosperity for all. But the powerful people diluted this ideal into their “own idols”, such as “power, possessions, extreme wealth at any cost, economic injustice, environmental injustice”. Idolatry, he said, has overtaken the great Buddhist ideals of Metta [loving kindness] and karuna [compassion]. He lamented that for the last seven decades, these idol worshippers have robbed the ideal of a nation built on peace and prosperity for all, turning it into a nightmare.
The hope of the “bread from heaven”
With their selfish interest, a handful of men chose to rob millions of people of their God-given bread of peace, life and prosperity, and have inflicted death, brokenness, agony and tears. Despite all this, Cardinal Bo urged the people not to lose their humanity and be able to discern between the ideal and the idol. Our pilgrimage to human dignity,” he said, “is a long march”, which can be sustained only by “the bread that came from heaven”, Christ. “We shall not be shaken in our faith. God’s time is not our time. He comes at the hour when only the best happens to the good people,” the cardinal added.