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Myanmar Cardinal: ‘Ours Is a Nation on Exodus. It Was a Promised Land’

Cardinal Charles Bo’s Recent Sermon in Cathedral in Sydney

We are a nation ‘on exodus,’ when once we were a promised land. This is at the heart of the message of Salesian Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon (Myanmar), which His Eminence has provided to ZENIT on June 11, 2018, and can be read in its entirety below.

Cardinal Bo made the speech recently in the Cathedral of Australia’s capital of Sydney.

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.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Good to see you all today – in our sacred fellowship of breaking the bread and breaking the word.  Australia – I remember you for many things – for welcoming our refugees from Burma when the country made their life difficult.   The Burmese community here, especially the Catholics have settled well and they are safe. As a nation you are great hosts welcoming everyone from war affected countries.  Though you may not have the statue of Liberty, each one of you raised your arms and hearts to welcome the people. Australia is the city set on the mountain of hope for millions.

I also  remember  when a monstrous cyclone Nargis struck us ten years ago it was the Australian church that rushed to our help through Caritas Australia and Catholic Mission.    

We rebuild our the lives of our poor.  In this war against want and poverty our ally is the Australian Catholic Mission. The strong bond we have developed with Catholic Mission is mutually enriching.  We face many challenges in our life. Sixty years of disempowerment. Sixty years of diluted education. Sixty years of war and displacement. Sixty years of unsafe migration.

The country’s problem can be traced to  lack of opportunities to the youth. Church hopes to forge a future for youth through education. We have planned a national Seminar in which we wish to open the doors of opportunity through Education. Education as  Emancipation of historical bondage, Empowerment of millions of our youth and Employability of our men and women otherwise forced to unsafe migration.

Australian people through Catholic mission stood shoulder to shoulder in our struggle to bring dignity to our poor youth. We have opened schools in remote areas. We have built churches where there was  none. We have educated our poor seminarians and sent them back to remote areas. You have shared the bread of compassion. We march ahead because people like Catholic Mission accompanies us in our mission.  This is sincerely a pilgrimage of gratitude to the church and the graceful people of Australia.  

Thank you, my brothers and Sisters and the great Catholic mission,  and we say that your compassion to the less fortunate people would be remembered by the Lord who said “Whenever you do it to the least of my brothers and sisters you do it to me” (Mt 25:40)

I am very glad to be with you to break the Word today.  In the Gospel passage Jesus stands at a critical juncture: doubted by his family and accused by the religious elite of the day.  Christ came as a good news of God’s love for the whole creation. People were touched by him, healed by him, raised from the dead by him.   He preached with great authority that the poor and the lame went back with the message: No one spoke like this man. The power Jesus had on the suffering and marginal people was astounding.  

But Today’s Gospel opens up with a scene where the Pharisees demonize him.  His power was stigmatized – accused of being a power broker for the devil.  They say:

“ He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demon

Demonizing people, stereotyping people – Jesus was a victim.  Imagine today in many parts of the world people belonging to certain culture, certain geographical areas are demonized and held as violent people.   Walls go up to prevent the people.

As Pope Francis bemoans the world has forgotten he art of building bridges but is becoming savvy in building walls.   The popular culture today does not see “brothers and sisters” in suffering people. Parochial nationalism is diluting faiths.   As cultures and religions are stigmatized there is a global paranoia against the others. People see Beelzebul in babies and women and children.

This is the challenge to Catholic community today.  Christ was considered as a ‘crazy’ by even by his family.  The world needs crazy people. Crazy Christians. Crazy Christians like Mother Teresa who go and collect the dying and infirmed from the street and nursed them back to life.    But sadly as Pope Francis pointed out, many traditional christian nations have stigmatized, demonized and dehumanised other communities.

Myanmar faces such moment now.   

Unresolved conflicts have resulted in millions leaving our shores, as unsafe migrants, refugees and IDPs.  Ours is a nation on Exodus. It was a promised land – with treasures over the land and below the land. Human hatred and fear of the other has made our people’s life an unending Exodus.

Fear of our own brothers is a genetic curse of humanity.  It started with Cain. There was no Jew, no Christian, no Muslim, and No Buddhist in the first pages of the Bible.  You see death, gruesome murder of brother killing brother. The first pages of Bible is soaked in blood. The Old Testament enumerated at least 100 wars with causalities more than a million.

Hatred is the original sin of Humanity. Demonising our brothers and Sisters is the original Sin of Humanity.   In the recorded human history there is less than a century where men have lived in peace without war. 20th Century ended with killing more than 135 million people.

Pope Francis mandated to Catholic Church in Myanmar only one Mission: Never repay vengence with revenge.  Be the Peace makers. Never repay hatred with hatred he said during the Public mass. “Do not wound, but heal the visible and invisible wounds of this nation” he poignantly requested Christians.

Christ urged his followers in his Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers for the will be called as children of God. In Myanmar we are a small church but we are an active peace maker. As a church we are in a vantage point of being a peace makers in Myanmar and we have taken this role with vigour.  Last year, for the first time, we organised the inter religious initiatives for peace. Just last month we managed to gather a group of Religions for Peace from all over to visit the leaders and affected people in Rakhine state. We keep our options open by meeting all the stakeholders: civilian and military.

You as a Church have been in communion with us in this sacred pilgrimage of peace. During Nargis time and afterwards   Australian church was generous in supporting quality teachers and building schools. School s are the new temples of hope.   Thank you very much for your generosity. Many remote communities see education because of your generosity. Thanks to Catholic Mission and Caritas Australia.

Returning the Gospel once again, I am reminded of the phobias and demonizing Christ underwent in his community was staggering.    Conflict emerged and Christ ended on the cross.

History repeats itself today.   Nationalism and hatred are becoming normal.  Pope stands on the hill top crying out to show mercy to people in the margin and those who are at sea.  Hatred against all starts inside, says Buddhism. The very violence thoughts are provoked by avidya (lack of knowledge).   Peace is possible only when the mind is at peace and receives knowledge with critical perception.

The conflict between the evil and good continues.  Christ tried to dispel the darkness. Myanmar Church strongly believes education will be the light set on the hill top that would dispel the darkness of hatred and bring harmony and peace to our people.

Thank you.

[Text of Message provided to ZENIT by Cardinal Bo]

About Cardinal Charles Bo

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