YANGON, Myanmar, NOV. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- A Holy See official exhorted Catholics in this Southeast Asian nation to carry out their responsibility of evangelization and to be faithful to their religious identity.
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made this exhortation aware that the Church’s freedom is limited by the nation’s ruling junta.
The cardinal is visiting Myanmar (formerly called Burma), Thailand, Laos and Cambodia as part of a pastoral trip that began last Saturday.
The cardinal celebrated Mass that day in St. Mary’s Cathedral in the capital, Yangon (formerly called Rangoon), on the eve of the solemnity of Christ the King, who he said is “the foundation and center of the history of peoples and of each person.”
The feast “reminds us that we must remain faithful and humble in following Christ. He leads us to the Kingdom of peace and justice where God will be all in all. This is our vocation and our commitment as Christians,” Cardinal Sepe added.
During a concelebrated Mass last Sunday in Mandalay’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, the cardinal said, “Humanity of this new millennium needs to discover that Christ is its Savior.”
“This is what, as Christian faithful, you must take with renewed enthusiasm to your brothers and sisters. You have an essential and irreplaceable role in this proclamation and witness,” he told the faithful.
The cardinal also highlighted the participation of the laity, in virtue of their baptism and confirmation, in the prophetic mission of Christ and their special vocation to build the Kingdom of God, by committing themselves to Christian leadership in temporal realms.
“Dear brothers and sisters, remain firm in your Christian identity, be heralds and missionaries in your vocation as witnesses of Christ in the society in which you live, proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to all,” he continued.
The prefect of the Vatican’s missionary congregation referred also to the Year of the Eucharist, explaining that it is a great opportunity “to reflect on this great gift of Christ himself to the world.”
“His real presence in the Eucharist reminds us that Christ the King is still with us today as the reason for our hope, source of firmness for our hearts, source of new zeal and sign of the triumph of the civilization of love,” he said in his homily.
On Monday, he spoke at a Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Fatima, in Yangon, which was attended by men and women religious, all involved in pastoral care in Myanmar.
“We know the problems and difficulties of all kinds that you come across every day and we also know the enthusiasm and dedication that you offer in your apostolate,” Cardinal Sepe told his listeners.
Referring to evangelization, Cardinal Sepe emphasized that this endeavor requires “much enthusiasm, prudence, perseverance and reflection,” and that religious are called, in particular, to work for human development through education, health care, and other social activities.
“Above all, you are called to serve the poor, the marginalized, the abandoned,” he said. “All these forms of apostolate are perceived as powerful signs of the fruitfulness of the Gospel.”
On Tuesday, Cardinal Sepe met with seminarians of St. Joseph’s Major Seminary in Yangon. He talked to them about aspects of their priestly vocation, especially the need for profound spiritual formation — without which, he said, the life of a priest will be a failure.
Seeing that in Myanmar there is an immense multitude that has never heard the Good News or received the sacraments, Cardinal Sepe exhorted the seminarians to study more profoundly the missionary dimension of the Church. “As future priests you should be conscious of this responsibility,” he said.
The proclamation of the Gospel in this country dates back to the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, although the mission began officially only two centuries later.
Today, there are 602,000 Catholics in Myanmar, distributed in 12 dioceses and served by 17 bishops, 533 diocesan priests, 24 religious priests, almost 100 men religious, and about 1,400 women religious. The country has 334 major seminarians.
The Fides agency reported that about 72% of the country’s 48 million inhabitants are Buddhist; 12.6% are animist; 8%, Christian; and 2.4%, Muslim.