Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar, during this Synod of Bishops on Young People, has said: “May every leader feed their sheep and not be fed by the sheep.”
In an exclusive interview with ZENIT, the Archbishop of Yangon reflected on the Synod, young people, how to regain credibility and more. Stressing “people are thirsting for the Word of God,” Myanmar’s cardinal also shared what he plans to bring back to his Archdiocese when he returns and put into practice.
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.
Here is our interview:
ZENIT: Cardinal Bo, what are your feelings about the work made by the Synod so far?
Cardinal Bo: It is extremely exciting. The Holy Father and the Synod Fathers are all enthusiastic. This Synod will definitely have positive effects, and the attention given by the Church will be something marvelous to witness in the near future.
ZENIT: Many contributions to the Synod have underlined that the young generations, in many countries, have turned their back on the Church and the faith. What have you listened to in this Synod that gives you hope about the future of the Church?
Many Synod Fathers and the young people themselves have expressed that in their experience, the leaders of the Church have not really listened to them. Not much attention and time have been offered to young people. Hence, many feel abandoned. With sincere listening and accompaniment, the young are ready to start afresh.
ZENIT: What “voice” are you giving to the young people of Myanmar? And what best practices have you seen here, mentioned by other fellow bishops or auditors, which you will bring back with you?
Both Bishop Francis Daw Tang and myself are sending a message this week, of how enriching of a time this Synod has been. We definitely will implement all the practical suggestions offered by the Synod Fathers to confess also that the bishops, clergy in Myanmar too, were failing in many areas as regards our pastoral care to our young people. The young people are not useless, but they are used less.
ZENIT: According to many observers, the accent during the Synod has been put until now on ‘what’ young people ask the Church: listening, understanding, a change of attitudes… But apart from that, what does the Church really have to offer them? Something that they could not find in other places…?
The faith, Christ, spiritual accompaniment and other programs, the Church wishes to offer to our young people.
ZENIT: The Synod is showing that the relationship between the Church and the young generations is not the same everywhere. But the secular mentality of Europe or Northern America have a strong impact on the rest of the world, through the so-called ‘ideological colonizations’ too. How is it possible to teach a young Asian or African Catholic that not everything coming from there, is consistent with the Gospel?
It is true that due to media and globalization, the West has much influence on Africa and Asia. In some way it is true of “ideological colonization.” We cannot deny this fact. Even in Myanmar, Buddhist monks and Muslims leaders are complaining that their followers are not the same as before. They are less fervent, less practicing and focusing more on the changes taking place.
It would be the task of the religious leaders to be sincere, dedicated and sacrificing of oneself, that, in my opinion, would keep the value of the Gospel. Youth are ready to cooperate. One strong point that protects African and Asia is that we are deeply rooted in our culture of respect, our culture of the sacred.
ZENIT: Pope Francis, during the opening session, exhorted the bishops ‘to take from this Synod not merely a document, but above all concrete pastoral proposals capable of fulfilling the Synod’s purpose … Have you made already a concrete proposal to put into practice when you return to Yangon?
Many proposals have come out during the interventions. They are very practical. This is my sixth Synod. But this Synod is very special for me. The other five Synods too were marvelous. But this time every intervention for the Fathers and witnesses from the Young, move me very much. I am very positive about the outcome of this Synod. For example: I will spend more days with the young during their gatherings and interact with them; or I will try to organize “Severs, choirs, and lectors.”
ZENIT: What do you think is most necessary for the February Summit on the Protection of Minors to be effective? Do you think new measures are imposed to work toward bishop accountability? How are young people not to get discouraged by this news?
The accountability of the bishops and the clergy will be very much discussed. This is a daring and positive move for the Church. The Church will be a good example in front of the world for the protection of the minors. Other groups and societies and denominations are in a worse situation. But the Church, with humility, is heading for a shining example.
ZENIT: How is the faith to help young people in their day to day lives? What practical recommendations do you have for them?
People are thirsting for the Word of God, prayers and meditations…. if there is someone to emulate. The bishops, priests, religious must have time for them. Take the example of Don Bosco, who consumed his entire life for the young, with the young and by the young. Every morning when Don Bosco got up, his very first question asking himself: What shall I do for the young people today?May every leader feed their sheep and not fed by the sheep.