Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, says that where there is extremism and persecution, the Catholic Church helps other persecuted religions, including Muslims, be given a voice and respect.
In an exclusive interview with Zenit, the Burmese Salesian Cardinal expressed this. The Cardinal was present in the Vatican following the ad limina visit with Pope Francis this week. In the interview, Zenit has had the opportunity to speak to Cardinal Bo about the visit with the Pope, the fruits of the Pontiff’s 2017 visit, the state of interreligious dialogue in the country and more.
Myanmar is emerging from decades of military rule after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the 2015 elections and has taken office.
The Muslim minority of the Rohingyas is considered by the UN to be one of the most persecuted. According to data from the Arakan Project, a humanitarian organization defending Rohingyas rights, since 2010, some 100,000 members of the minority have fled Burma (Myanmar) by sea. Violence between radical Buddhists and Rohingyas has left, since 2012, more than 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.
ZENIT: Cardinal Bo, the ad limina visit of the bishops of Myanmar in the Vatican happened just a few months after the historic visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar. Did you talk about that trip during your discussions?
Cardinal Bo: We did a great deal. We thanked the Holy Father for his visit, his special attention to all people excluding no one. He had met the army senior general, the government and authorities especially Aung San San Suu Kyi, the monks, religious leaders, the young people and all, leaving the message of peace, love and reconciliation. The Holy Father thanked us for the warmth and hospitality of the country.
ZENIT: What fruits did the Pope leave to the Church of Myanmar, which in the past years, has endured enormous suffering?
The immediate fruits that we could gather was the we have now direct link and contact with the authorities and the military. It provided an open path for dialogue. The celebration was a complete success. The Holy Father left with us lots of homework: peace and reconciliation. Though the situations are still complex, we believe we are heading towards peace.
ZENIT: Today, after a few months, how is the figure of the Pope seen by the Burmese people?
Before his visit, many non-Catholics were not aware who the Pope was. Now it is just the reverse. The people of Myanmar have full respect and love for the Pope as well as esteem and respect for the Catholic Church. They admire the works of peace and nation-building.
ZENIT: In your country, there is no shortage of tensions related to the coexistence of different religions, referring especially to the Buddhist majority and other religions. How is the situation of interreligious dialogue in Myanmar today?
A Muslim once mentioned that they have no longer a voice, that Catholic Church is their voice. The voice of extremism is strong and our voice, too, is strong.