A presentation from Myanmar – By Cardinal Charles Maung Bo., Archbishop of Yangon
Greetings from Myanmar.
Ours is a nation endowed with scintillating beauty, copious natural resources and more than any great treasures, we have our great human treasures: Eight Major tribes and 135 sub-tribes. This a colorful nation, once the envy of the whole of Southeast Asia.
But God who was indulgent with resources and people seems to have forgotten to give peace. The nation has been wounded by festering wars. For the nearly six decades of its existence, the country has been at war, brother against brother. So much blood and tears have been shed.
The shopping list of human hatred is nauseating: nearly a million internally displaced people, nearly a million fled as refugees, nearly 4 million forced into distress migration, around 22 internal conflicts continue to simmer. The country once the richest in the whole of Southeast Asia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. War has mutilated sustainable development. The dream of human dignity is becoming a receding dream. Despite all the great resources, we look for aid from rich countries. We are the proverbial blind beggar begging with the golden plate. War has
Amidst this darkness of despair, we as religious leaders wish to light a candle of hope with a single mantra: PEACE IS POSSIBLE, PEACE IS THE ONLY WAY.
I am glad that we are gathered here to discuss a pivotal SDG: Peace Justice and Strong institutions: Religious Actors Role on Sustaining Peace. This an encouraging development. This recognition that religious leaders are influential in peacemaking is a reality the world leaders and the civil society actors need to take into account. Often there is a tendency to implicate religions and their leaders to direct or indirect cause of conflicts. This is sad because many parts of the world, especially in Asia and Africa, the religious leaders play a major role as opinion makers, community leaders who could influence the faithful towards peace, not conflict.
This proactive role is played the religious leaders in Myanmar. My country is a deeply religious country. It is a country of pristine Buddhism. There are 500,000 monks and 70000 Buddhist nuns. And the Catholic Church has 800 priests and 2200 nuns. All these religious live in remote villages, influencing the people’s life and faith. Their role in maintaining peace through imparting values like compassion is an extraordinary contribution to the peace of Myanmar. The culture is soaked in reverence for the religious people. Religious people impart great values in society.
Sadly this role is not taken into account even by the great peace moves like Panglong Peace conference where the presence of the religious leaders is minimal or at most as observers.
As an active participant in the Religions for peace and as the main organizer of the national level conference on Peace I am glad to share my experience in peacemaking and peacebuilding. Religions have been stigmatized by recent discourses like “ clash of civilizations” much to the detriment of the Peace efforts in Asia and other areas where religions play a major role.
All major religions teach the core vision: Humanity is one huge family. We are all brothers and sisters. We share the same spirit: INTER BEING AND INTER DEPENDANCE. We are one. The great fruits of religious people are articulated in the simple sentence: COMPASSION IS THE COMMON RELIGION OF HUMANITY.
Based on this we have done three levels of intervention to 1. PEACE PROMOTION, PEACEBUILDING AND SUSTAINING PEACE. On this we have moved on three levels :
- International Initiatives for Peace through Religions for Peace
Religions for Peace is an international organization of Religious leaders and laity. For the last two years, amidst all the problems, Religions for Peace has managed to gain the confidence of the main stakeholders in the country. In our first visit, we could interact with the government, especially the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. In a gesture of peacemaking, the government also was magnanimous in arranging for a spot visit of the displacement affected Rakhine areas. This goodwill visit was very helpful in cooling down the situation and also building confidence among the stakeholders. This is a first visit to the areas by the neutral groups. While the world was indulging in strong criticism the visit of the Religions for peace really helped in opening the doors of dialogue. This team was consisting of major Buddhist monks of the world, Christian leaders, Muslim leaders, Hindu leaders, and other communities. The composition of the team was a great witness in a country where inter-religious attacks were increasing. The team also challenged the hater speech and extremism of some of the fringe religious leaders.
The second meeting of the Religions for Peace was a robust affair with the nation’s leader and representatives of the government and the civil society participating in full strength. The role of the Religions for Peace was greatly appreciated. Our efforts have opened the doors for dialogue and meeting of the people.
- National Level Peace Conferences: In 2017 we brought together the religion’s leaders at the national level. Around 90 people from various religious backgrounds attended with the theme “ Peace is Possible, Peace is the Only Way”. This conference was a great support to the government and the non-government actors in understanding the issues. The themes of the conference were helpful to the participants of the Panglong conference held that year.
- Influence with the non-State Actors: The church has been in the forefront of connecting with the non-state actors and armed groups because many of the groups are Christian groups. Church proactively worked for peace and many times helped the government to reach out to these groups for dialogue etc. Both the army and the armed groups have been maintaining a good relationship with church leaders to facilitate peace moves. There are specific cases of peace deals were agreed based on the initiatives of the Catholic Bishops
- People to People dialogue: In events of natural calamity and conflict, the religious leaders visited the areas as a group and helped the people without any reference to religion or race. Natural calamities provided a space for religious leaders to promote the message of Peace through compassion.
- Addressing the root causes of conflict: Churches have taken upon themselves the task of assisting in the nation Recently the Catholic Church has analyzed the root causes of conflicts and suggested five major areas for nation-building which could bring the peace dividend. They are Education, Integral Human Development, Women Development, Indigenous rights and inter-religious initiatives for peace. The church is eager to commit itself to collaborating with all in the nation-building. We also recognized that the exploitation of natural resources remains a sore point of conflict. We have raised our voice for customary laws. Significantly recently the Bishop Conference of Myanmar has appealed to the government to suspend permanently the mega-dam project by the Chinese government which would negatively impact millions of people. This effort has received the support of all people.
Poverty remains one of the major causes of conflict. Business, government, and civil society need to act on behalf of the poor in raising the standards of the people. Religion has played a major role in the lives of the Myanmar people. The future prosperity and peace and the fulfilments of Sustainable development goals depend mostly on the fellowship of the religious leaders who continue to have great influence in the lives of our people. Religions have played a major role in the moments of conflicts. Let a new era opens up in Myanmar that would see the governments and others join hands with religious leaders to fulfill the SDG Goals.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo., SDB
Archbishop of Yangon – Myanmar.