Church in Myanmar Growing Despite Trials

Country Has 1,300 Seminarians, Says Archbishop of Yangon

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ROME, JULY 4, 2003 (ZENIT.orgFides).- The Catholic Church is growing in Myanmar, thanks in particular to the charitable commitment of the laity, said Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Yangon.

The archbishop was one of 42 new archbishops who came to Rome to receive the pallium last Sunday. The pallium is a symbol of communion with the Pope.

«We are a very close knit community and, despite difficulties and trials, we praise God, we pray, evangelize and engage in social and charity work,» he said.

According to the latest Statistical Yearbook of the Church, there are 606,000 baptized people among Myanmar’s 47 million people. The yearbook’s 1999 edition listed 484,000 baptized.

Gathered in 12 dioceses in what was formerly known as Burma, the faithful are served by 16 bishops, 600 priests, 1,400 religious and 3,000 catechists.

«Despite restrictions imposed by the military regime we are free to pray in our churches and to evangelize through our lay catechists prepared with good formation courses,» Archbishop Bo said.

«Our catechists travel through the villages visiting remote families. Country people are more easily led to Jesus, whereas in the cities people are less inclined to listen,» he added. «In Mandalay and Yangon, Buddhism is deeply rooted. In fact, 90% of Myanmar’s Catholics belong to ethnic minority groups.

«Vocations flourish. At St Joseph National seminary in Yangon we have more than 80 students preparing for the priesthood and each diocesan seminary has about 100, which amounts to a total of 1,300 seminarians in all.»

The Catholic community is active in social work. «We have schools, dispensaries, hospitals — mainly in remote areas — thanks to the work of religious congregations,» the archbishop said. «We also have religious and laity working in government structures especially in poor areas where help is most needed. The government welcomes our assistance. Poverty is a serious problem and the Church provides assistance for poor people and refugees.»

However, the freedom of the Church is restricted. The government keeps strict control of the community and the movement of bishops, although it does not interfere with ordinations of prelates or priests.

After the arrest of Myanmar’s civil rights leader Aung San Su Kyi on May 30, the European Union called on the country’s authorities to release all political prisoners and encouraged the ASEAN countries (Association of South East Asian Nations), as well as China, India and Japan, to use their influence to «actively promote the necessary political change in Myanmar.»

Commenting on the pallium the Pope conferred on him, the new archbishop said: «It was a most important moment in my life as a bishop. It helped me realize to the full my responsibility as shepherd of the little flock in Yangon.»

Bishop of Pathein since 1996, he was appointed archbishop of Yangon by the Pope in May.

The archbishop described his pastoral plan with a play on words: «I was inspired by the Holy Spirit on the day I was appointed and realized I would receive the pallium, a spiritual cloak or ‘robe.'»

The «R» stands for reflecting, re-creating harmony; stopping and then resuming the journey with new energy. «O» means to obey the commands of the Gospel, tradition, and the will of God.

«B» means to build up the community by means of communion among the clergy and the people, to build relations with other Christians and other believers. «E» is for the Eucharist, to keep it at the center of Church life and pastoral activities.

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