Catholics Implore Peace in Myanmar

Priests Not Joining Protesters, But Offering Guidelines

YANGON, Myanmar, SEPT. 27, 2007 ( The Church in Myanmar continues to pray for peace amid an ongoing government crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrations that saw the participation of thousands of Buddhist monks.

Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Rangoon, secretary-general of the Myanmar episcopal conference, told Vatican Radio, “Especially in this difficult moment all Catholics have committed themselves to prayer and offering special Masses.”

The prelate added that “in line with the Code of Canon Law and the Church’s social doctrine, priests and religious are not involved in the actual protests and do not belong to any political party.”

However, he affirmed, “Catholics, as citizens, are free to act according to their conscience. Priests and religious can offer appropriate guidelines.”

Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — has attracted international attention, escalating in the last week, as government forces began to fire at protesters who took to the streets after a fuel price hike took effect Aug. 19.

The Myanmar government — a military junta in power since 1962 — imposed 60 days of curfew, but the protests and the crackdown continue.

Vatican Radio noted that warnings from the West to use “maximum moderation,” have seemed useless.

Freedom or repression

The Vatican station spoke with Father Piero Gheddo of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, an expert on the region. He said this civil movement is strong because of the involvement of the monks and the response of the citizens accompanying them.

“I think that in this situation, so trying for that population of 50 million […], the governments of the West have to apply more pressure,” Father Gheddo said. “[The protest] will be a very, very positive situation if it ends in freedom. Negative if it provokes repression.”

“The [junta] abolished political parties, unions, free press, associations, even nonpolitical associations,” the priest said. “Those who rule in Burma, who dominate the entire situation, are only, only, only the government and whoever is with the government!

“I think the entire population — almost the entire population — is rebelling because Burma — let us recall — after the last postwar period, in ’46-’48, when they received their independence, was the most developed country in Southeast Asia and was rich with natural resources. Today it is the last country in every way.”

The last large-scale democracy demonstrations ended in the death of at least 3,000 people in 1988.

In Aid to the Church in Need’s 2006 Report on the Situation of Religious Freedom in the World, Myanmar is cited among the countries with the greatest legal or de facto restriction on religious liberty.

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