By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Mass this month for Myanmar Catholics living in Rome. He will celebrate the Mass at 10.00 am on 16 May, the Solemnity of the Ascension, according to the Prefecture of the Papal Household.
The Pope’s gesture for Myanmar comes during the current Marian month of May, during which he has dedicated the Marathon of Prayer, involving Marian shrines across the globe, for an end to the pandemic. On 1 May, the Pope inaugurated the marathon with the first stop in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar has urged Catholics to pray the rosary and participate in Eucharistic adoration during this month, for peace, justice and human dignity in the country.
Speaking on Sunday after the midday Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis mentioned the initiative of Myanmar's Church, saying it is very close to his heart. He said it “invites us to pray for peace with a Hail Mary for Myanmar in our daily Rosary”.
“Each of us turns to our Mother when we are in need or in difficulty,” the Pope said. “This month, we ask our Mother of Heaven to speak to the hearts of all leaders in Myanmar so that they may find the courage to walk the path of encounter, reconciliation and peace.”
Violence has spiraled since the 1 February coup, in which the military seized power by overthrowing the elected government of Aung Saan Suu Kyi and reversing years of slow progress toward democracy.
A nationwide protest, strike and civil disobedience movement that ensued has roiled the nation, demanding the release of Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy. At least 766 civilians have been reported killed by security forces.
The military’s confrontation has also widened with airstrikes, heavy artillery and ground attacks against ethnic insurgency armies on Myanmar's fringes, which is displacing thousands of civilians.
The United Nations Security Council on Friday strongly backed calls by Southeast Asian nations for an immediate cessation of violence and talks as a first step toward a solution following the military coup in Myanmar.
The council reiterated its demand for the restoration of democracy and the release of all detainees and condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians. It is hoped that diplomatic efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, and by U.N. special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener will produce tangible results.
Also on Friday, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warned that Myanmar’s economy risks collapsing under a scale of impoverishment unseen in the country since 2005. In a report, it said that in the 12 years between 2005 and 2017, the country had managed to nearly halve the number of people living in poverty.
However, the challenges of the past 12 months have put all of these hard-won development gains at risk. Without functioning democratic institutions, Myanmar faces a tragic and avoidable backslide towards levels of poverty not seen in a generation.
Pope’s closeness to Myanmar
Since the 1 February coup, the Holy Father, who visited Myanmar in 2017, has made numerous appeals for dialogue and peace in the country.
His first appeal for peace came on Sunday, 7 February, when he prayed that Myanmar’s military leaders might “place themselves with sincere willingness at the service of the common good, promoting social justice and national stability, for a harmonious, democratic coexistence. Let us pray for Myanmar.”
The following day, in his state-of-the-world address to the diplomatic corps, the Pope hoped the country’s political leaders will be released as a sign of encouragement for a sincere dialogue aimed at the good of the country.
Again on 3 March, the Pope raised his voice for dialogue and harmony so that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar may not be stifled by violence. He urged that the young people have the hope of a future where hatred and injustice make way for encounter and reconciliation.
Speaking during his general audience on 17 March in the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “I too kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say: stop the violence! I too reach out my arms and say: may dialogue prevail!” His words were inspired by the powerful gesture of Myanmar Catholic nun, Sister Ann Rosa Nu Tawng of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, who on 28 February set aside every fear and approached the armed security forces and pleaded with them on her knees and folded hands not to harm the peaceful protesters.
More recently, in his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday, 4 April, the Pope expressed his closeness to the young people of the southeast Asian country who, he said are “committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully, in the knowledge that hatred can be dispelled only by love.”