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‘Youth of Myanmar – Messengers of Peace and Duty for Peacebuilding,’ by Cardinal Charles Bo

Approximately 60% of Myanmar’s total population is under the age of 35

‘Youth of Myanmar – Messengers of Peace  and Duty for Peace Building.’ This is at the heart of the message of Salesian Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon (Myanmar), which His Eminence has provided to ZENIT on April 27, 2017 and can be read in its entirety below.

Cardinal Bo made the speech in Myanmar’s Pathein Diocese to a National Gathering of over 2500  young people in preparation for the Synod on Young People in Rome this October.

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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Youth of Myanmar – Messengers of Peace  and Duty for Peacebuilding

  1. INTRODUCTION.

Dear Friends in the Lord,

  • Here flows the positive energy of the whole church.  This is really the experience of the disciples  after the  resurrection.  All of the disciples  – they were poor, lacked power but the power of Jesus touched them and they rose like a mighty wave.  That small crowd changed history.  You, the youth of Myanmar, are the great asset of this church.
  • It is a great energy to see you  so many  Catholic Youth from every corner of Myanmar.  Our church is  colorful, really catholic and so young.  Church is so blessed to have  such youth.   Your generosity in coming from far off places and  surviving the hot box climate is really admirable.  The future of the Church in Myanmar is  really very promising.
  • Today we are called upon to address one of  most important topics for the very survival of Myanmar as a nation and  people :  Are you aware of that topic :  It is  as important as breathing.   Without that a nation’s destiny dies.
  • It is Peace.  Peace,  Shalom.   If you remember the Our Holy Father’s Mass for the Youth, he left a simple message :  Youth of Myanmar become  messengers of hope and peace in this country. The Pope Said :

 

  • It is hard  to talk about the ‘Good News’ of the Gospel when injustice, poverty and misery are all around us. Yet  you must be messengers of hope in Myanmar, unafraid to believe in God’s mercy and show solidarity with your suffering sisters and brothers.
  • We are going to spend this session   on some reflection on ‘How to resurrect  peace in this Pascal season and build peace as Catholic youth. And be in  solidarity with the our suffering sisters and brothers as the Pope mandated us.
  • You know that  as Catholics we have an advantage to bring peace  between the majority community that is becoming  highly confused and the Muslim community. We are so far,  neutral body and how can be instrument of  peace.   In many places we are also victims of  war and displacement, poverty.  But  as Jesus was a wounded healer, we are not here to talk about only about our wounds.   As Christ’s  young brigade, we are here, in the words of Pope Francis  given during the Mass :

“Heal the known and the hidden wounds of the  world.  Do not give into the temptation to  repay violence with vengeance. We are here to see how as  Christians  bring  “ healing and reconciliation”.

 

  1. CONTEXTUAL ANALYSIS  The  great theologian Karl Barth once said “ A true Christian holds Bible in one hand and  news paper in another hand. : Can someone explain this statement?
  • Vatican II constantly tells us that God continues to speak through ‘signs of times’  – Karl Barth is telling us that listen to God’s voice in the Bible and also in the voice of events today.

 

  • Tell me who are the great victims of armed conflict that is going on for 60 years in this country
  • Tell me who are the  great victims of war and displacement
  • Tell me who are the victims of drug and  human trafficking
  • Tell me  who are the victims of unsafe migration  – who are the millions of ‘ modern slaves’ in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and sea slaves.
  • Tell me who are victims of lack of proper  education and proper opportunities

Lack of peace has resulted in generation crucified on modern crosses.

Since most of the victims are the youth, the  liberation from the suffering of the youth comes from youth themselves.

  • This  country  is not kind to youth.  For  three generations from 1964  many youth went to grave not knowing what is their capacity.
  • But history has proved that  liberation to this country  came from youth who refused to accept the power of evil.
  • Christ was  a youth  and refused to accept injustice.  He took on the mighty Roman Empire and paid a great price.
  • But a new era rose from the message of Cross.  “That  evil has an expiry date and good never dies”.
  • We are here to celebrate that hope.
  • Peace is possible.  Peace With justice is the only way.
  • Catholic youth are willing to work for a peace with justice in this country.
  1. Myanmar History and Role of Youth in Struggle for Peace and Justice.
  • Liberation Struggle and struggle for dignity in Myanmar was always started by youth.  When Bogyoke Aung San started struggle from the Colonial masters, he was a student, U Nu was a student  and all his comrades were in their 20s.   Without worrying about their  youth they  challenged a mighty empire and Aung San was the leader of the country when he was in early 30s.
  • When  Ne Win regime became  suffocating and peace and justice  were denied, the ‘88’ youth rose like a Tsunami against the  powers of darkness.  Aung San Suu Kyi was a young woman that time.   All of them  had great belief in their ‘ power of the empty hands.’
  • In 2007 when saffron Revolution threatened the  government, it was  young monks who played  major  role in the raising the conscience  of the world.

Potential  of Youth for Peacebuilding by the Youth.

  • Approximately 60% of Myanmar’s total population is under the age of 35. The national median age is 27 years and approximately 33% of the population falls between the ages of 15-35 years.
  • An estimated 20 million people in Myanmar are registered on Facebook, of which 70% are between 19-34 years old, and young people have effectively leveraged technology to respond to the propagation of hate speech online. Facebook is a strong vehicle  for hate speech against minorities.  But this hate speech is being confronted by youth belonging to majority community refusing to be part of hatred.
  • Young people started the “Flower Speech” (Panzagar) movement against hate speech in 2013. In less than a month, the movement had nearly 30,000 followers on Facebook.
  • To mark the 2012 International Day of Peace, youth groups coordinated one of the largest public demonstrations since the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
  • In 2013, young people also mobilized around the Yangon to Laiza Peace March, which garnered a certain degree of national attention
  • Young people also launched the “My Friend” campaign to promote tolerance and antiviolence between Muslims and Buddhists.
  • Young people also contributed to the National peace conference  conducted by the Catholic Church in 2017.
  1. 4. What does our Faith say about  Peacebuilding

We are not NGOs conducting peacebuilding  Seminars in Five- star hotels.  We follow Jesus who walked in the streets, born in a borrowed place and buried in the   borrowed  grave.

We are inspired by our faith,

  1. Bible  –Blessed are the Peace makers for they will be called children of God (Mt 5:9)

Bible  brings the great concept of Shalom.  The Jews always  greeted each other not with ‘Good morning’.  Always with the word : Peace = Shalom.

Jesus’  Birth :  Jesus’ birth was announced by the Angel : Peace on Earth.

Jesus after Resurrection : Every time he greets  people with only one  wish : PEACE!

  • Jesus as the Messiah is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6)
  • Jesus gives peace (John 14:27)
  • Jesus came to lead our feet into the paths of peace (Luke 1:79)
  • The good news of Jesus is the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:14-15)
  • Refusing Jesus’ way of peace has real-world consequences (Luke 19:42)
  • Peacemakers are children of God (Matt. 5:9)
  • The God of peace makes a covenant of peace.

Biblical Definition of Peace.

Peace includes justice.  Peace comes through relationship one another : right relations, harmony, the weak are safe, no oppression/injustice, needs are met.

  1. Church Tradition
  • Peace is not merely the absence of war, peace is the vibrant presence of Justice.
  • Pope Paul VI :  There is no peace without justice.
  • Catholic Social teaching :  Peace is based on Human Dignity.  Every one is  created in God’s image.  There is no  minority or majority in the eyes of God. All are God’s children and enjoy full rights.

C : Myanmar Church

  • Various  bishops have worked with the ethnic armies and the Myanmar armies for peace in Kachin areas and Kayah areas.
  • Church has been working with the various  religious  groups for  peace and harmony
  • On April 2017 the Church conducted the first every inter religious initiatives for peace bringing together 150 people from five religions for two days seminar.

Youth and Peacbuilding In Myanmar . Challenges to peace in Myanmar

When we confront challenges, we need to be encouraged by example of Jesus. Jesus came at a time when his country Israel was under bondage. The resources were exploited by Roman colonizers. Christ preached peace with Justice. He walked with the people in the margin.

Pope encourages that we should never have a cemetery mentality. Weeping over the past is a waste of time. We need missionary mentality he says. This mentality is willing to start again and again. Let us see what are the challenges we face :

  1. Five wounds of the country :

Once a youth group was asked to give major challenges facing our country. The came out with a picture of a crucified man. When asked if this was Jesus, they said that picture depicts the youth of Myanmar crucified with five wounds.

These are the five wounds caused by lack of peace in our country and bleeding for the last sixty years.

( External Challenges to Peace) FIVE WOUNDS – that can be healed by Our young people

  1. Conflict with the Ethnic groups – sixty years of war and thousands displaced
  2. Conflict with religious groups : Muslim issue and thousands displaced
  3. Conflict caused by economic Injustice
  4. Conflict caused by Environmental Injustice
  5. Conflict caused by inhuman drug trafficking, human trafficking

These five wounds have made our golden land into one of the poorest country in the world. Who is worst affected?

  • ·  It is our youth : Lack of proper education, lack of opportunities and they fall into great risks. – drugs, human trafficking and unsafe migration.
  • ·  Three generations have lived under war and displacement.
  • ·  70% of young people (aged 18-34) in Myanmar have not completed high school.
  • ·  Our Youth become the cheap labor for China, Thailand, Malaysia. We make these

countries rich and we remain poor.

Myanmar Youth are wounded. But we can become the wounded healer. But we have to tackle our own internal Challenges.

  1. Major Internal Challenges Among Catholic Youth
  • Too much of Ethnicity: Each Diocese is too much worried about their own people. We are five major groups : Kachins, Karens, Kayahs, Chins and other mixed Catholics. We are worried about our own dioceses. When big cyclone happened in the delta, for many of us it was a “Karen” area and Karen Church problem. Then we had Kachin conflict emerged and threw out thousands as IDPs, it became a Kachin problem. We have not even visited the IDP camps. We can give many examples how we are not touched by wounds of other people.
  • ·  Lack of Catholic Sense – Oneness of the Myanmar Church : We have struggled hard to make the Myanmar church a Catholic Church. Catholic means a universal outlook, willing to see human problem, my tribe or not, my religion or not, as a call from God who created every human being as the image of God. Peace involvement by the Youth will be a great opportunity take up national level activity by the church.
  • ·  A fragmented Spirituality of sacred and Secular : Catholic practices often ends with attending the church services often Sunday mass. That is the end of our Christian involvement . Vatican II and Popes have constantly warned against this fragmentation. Integral Holistic Evangelization is the way of our Spirituality. The great Archbishop Oscar Romero once said : “A religion of Sunday Mass but of unjust weeks does not please the Lord. A religion of much praying but with hypocrisy in the heart is not Christian. A church that sets itself up only to be well off, to have a lot of money and comfort, but that forgets to protest injustices, would not be the true church of our divine Redeemer’
  1. Youth and Peace Building In Myanmar (10 Minutes)

Why Targeting Youth for Peace Building ?

Making peace is one of our faith based activity. Peace with justice is the new name for new Evangelization.

  • ·  Pope’s Mandate to Youth of Myanmar : Pope’s visit has only one core message : Let the Catholic Church, especially the youth, be an instrument of healing and peace making.
  • ·  The Urgency of Youth involvement in the Peace : For sixty years this country suffered. The older generation has lived with unhealed wounds. But the youth of today are more open and reach out to one another in this era of social media.
  • ·  Vulnerability of Youth : Youth continue to be major victims because of Conflict, as combatants, as refugees, as unsafe migrants.
  • ·  Refusal of the country to involve the Youth in Peace process : Despite all the suffering taken by the youth, this country is not involving in the peace process. Youth are almost absent in the Parliament.
  • ·  Refusal to include the Youth in Panglong Process : 21Century Panglong Conference has not specifically involved the youth in peace conferences. Though UN has declared Youth must play major role, Myanmar has kept Youth outside all peace initiatives.

As long as the youth are kept outside all the Peace building, there will not be any peace in Myanmar.

  1. Youth and Peace Building in Myanmar. Some Practical Suggestions
  • ·  A culture of peace IN us and AROUND us :

Before we go for making peace in the country, we need to develop a culture of peace in ourselves. We are not to be cultivate hatred. Following Jesus who could forgive enemies even from the Cross, we need to have a culture of forgiveness. Forgive seventy times seven and pray for those who persecute you, said Jesus. We need a culture of forgiveness. We became aware that I have a great dignity as the image of God and see that image in others. Every human being – even those who oppress us – has a dignity. Only through inner freedom we enter into peace making. Anger is not the starting point.
We have moved from the old testament direction of AN EYE FOR EYE, A TOOTH FOR TOOTH.

  • ·  Intra- and inter-faith dialogue:

Intra : Judge not, you will not be judged – said Jesus. Most of us often have a misunderstanding about other faiths. First of all we need to understand other Christians. I am not saying new things. There is lot of conflict among various Christians, even in the IDP camps. This is the scandal. We need to know our Baptist brothers and other Christian brothers and Sisters. Disunity among Christians has been a great obstacle to Peace in many parts of Myanmar.

Inter : The country has gained great negative image in the recent times because of the treatment of religious groups. As a church we are working towards harmony of various religious.

  • ·  Civic and peace education: Knowledge is power. We need to have deeper knowledge of the human rights, peace education.
  • ·  Peer-to-peer capacity building and training events; Youth are united in serving the nation. Christians have chance to undergo many capacity trainings, especially through KMSS. But if you go to remote areas, non Christian youth have no chance to exposed to peace education. They are vulnerable to hate speech. Christian youth need to reach out to non Christian youth. Peace building is the new evangelization.
  • ·  Organising and providing aid in disaster-affected regions: One very effective way of reaching out to the heart of the other religious people, during the times of natural disasters. During the Nargis Catholics reached out to the Buddhists and compassion became the common religion. Reaching out to non Christians was a good fellowship.
  • ·  Organizing peace demonstrations, protests and promotion of human rights.Though we need to caution, Myanmar Youth have shown that they can come together for peace, urging the leaders for sit for the dialogue. We need to have peace prayer night meetings.
  • ·  Fostering inter-ethnic relations to build national peace : Understanding the ethnic tensions and reaching out to all ethnic groups. One of our great challenges is how to bring unity among the sub ethnic groups. Disunity among the ethnic groups has weakened durable solution.
  • ·  Reconciling interfaith tensions through youth networks : A task force of interfaith youth working towards helping the poor, educating the poor children, working in the human development needs to be established.
  • ·  The youth sphere of influence: Convening and mobilizing communities : Inter religious Youth offering one or two years of work to live in poor communities. Compassion that unites the various people working with the common compassion for the people.
  • Nurturing the youth space: The role of national and international non-state actors :
    Very Importantly youth should be part of all peace initiatives. Government must welcome the participation of the youth in Panglong conferences. The Ethnic armed groups should not only use the youth for combat alone but in the the peace talks.

Conclusion :

God is love, God is Peace. Peace I give to you, the peace you give to all, said Jesus. Being a Christian youth today means that we work pro actively towards peace.

Peace brings dividends and the first beneficiaries are the Youth. As of now the victims of conflict and lack of peace has wounded our youth and many places they are crucified to suffering.

Peace is the only way, peace is possible. Many countries once were in war : Japan, Germany, African countries. But they have reconciled with their enemies and invested in peace. Their youth are blessed with peace and prosperity.

Let my country awake to that reality of peace. Let the youth of today be the last generation that would see war and displacement. To achieve that church and the youth vow to invest their energy and time in peace making.

Peace is possible, Peace is the only Way

[Text of Message provided to ZENIT by Cardinal Bo]

About Cardinal Charles Bo

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