Myanmar Bishops Urged Toward Interreligious Dialogue

Cross Is a Reality for Burmese Christians, John Paul II Says

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 19, 2001 ( John Paul II urged a visiting delegation of bishops from Myanmar to promote interreligious dialogue, even as he recognized that their beleaguered flock «lives close to the cross of the Savior.»

The military junta that governs the country, also known as Burma, «officially promotes interreligious dialogue, but in practice it is co-responsible for the violence and discrimination suffered by the religious minorities, especially the Christian and Muslim,» says the «2000 Report on Religious Liberty,» published by Aid to the Church in Need.

Christians and Muslims have serious difficulties in obtaining permits to construct buildings for worship, and to print or import translations of sacred texts, the report states.

The report also reveals that organizations of the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups have denounced the kidnapping of women, some of whom are Christians, who have been forced to become Buddhist nuns.

Myanmar has almost 42 million inhabitants, 87% of whom are Buddhists; 5.6% Christians; 3.6% Muslims; 1.1% animists; and 1% Hindus. Catholics number 560,000.

The situation of Christians is doubly difficult since they have few pastors. In the mid-1960s the government expelled virtually all missionaries and nationalized schools and hospitals.

In his farewell address to the bishops Saturday, who were in Rome for their «ad limina» visit, John Paul II said, «Myanmar is a land where the Church in her early years knew martyrdom, and still today lives close to the cross of the Savior.»

«The cross is the source of our hope and certainty: For every grace that enlightens and strengthens human hearts flows from the wounded side of the crucified Lord,» the Pope added.

Among the difficulties facing Catholics and many Burmese are «widespread poverty, despite the abundant resources of the land, and limits placed on fundamental rights and freedoms,» the Holy Father said.

«These problems are in many ways aggravated by isolation, which is all the more harmful when interaction between peoples and between nations is increasing and growing more complex by the day,» he added.

«In this situation, the Church´s pastors must be all the more concerned to remain close to their people, and lead them in the path of the Gospel,» the Pope emphasized.

John Paul II told the bishops that on the face of Christ «we see both the greatness of divine love and the greatness of human dignity.»

«In contemplating the face of Christ, you and your people will find the strength to live the humility, poverty and even solitude of your situation not as a burden but as an evangelical virtue, uplifting and freeing,» the Pope continued.

He encouraged Burmese Catholics «to promote that interreligious dialogue, which is so important at a time when relations between peoples of different cultures and traditions are subjected to great stress.»

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