MUMBAI, India – Myanmar’s lone cardinal says peace is not only possible, but that it is “the only way.”
Cardinal Charles Bo made his comments in his Christmas message, released earlier this week, but he also reflected on the current situation in his country, which is facing international pressure over the condition of ethnic minorities, especially the Muslim Rohingya population.
Earlier this month, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi defended the actions of Myanmar’s army against the Rohingya at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is investigating charges of genocide against the country’s military.
Bo has often defended Suu Kyi, pointing out that she must be supported if the country’s slow transition from a military dictatorship to a functioning democracy is to succeed.
“More than any time in history, Myanmar stands at the crossroads of history today, seeking peace and reconciliation,” Bo said. “This grace and gift we ask as a nation, as a family.”
The cardinal said that every citizen of Myanmar is called to become “ambassadors of peace and reconciliation.”
“Yes, countries and international community can do their part. But Christmas is the challenge to everyone to play our part in bringing peace. On that silent night, the message of peace was not preached to the powerful, the kings and rich. It was preached to the simple, powerless shepherd. Let us hear that message of first Christmas in our hearts,” he said.
Catholics in Myanmar number about 700,000 people, less than 2 percent of the population.
Despite its small size, the Church in Myanmar is very diverse, and most prominent among the country’s ethnic minorities.
The 16 dioceses in the country reflect this diversity – four for the Karen ethnic group, three for the Kachins, four for the Chins, three for the Kayahs, and two with a mixture of ethnicities.
This has caused discrimination and suspicion from the majority Burmese, whose ethnicity is often intertwined with their Buddhist faith.
However, Bo said the Christmas story provides parallels for the present situation.
“Christ came at the most challenging times of Jewish history. His coming was a healing moment. The Jews were looking for a messiah who can reconcile everyone – the various tribes, the various rulers. War and subjugation was their lot,” the cardinal said.
He explained Myanmar also “stands at the crossroads of history” and faces many challenges.
“There are chronic wars, there is huge displacement, unsafe migration of thousands of our youth, climate change and the need for reconciliation among various people,” Bo said.
“God is so indulgent to Myanmar. The graceful people from every tribe, the plentiful natural resources, the spiritual wealth of Myanmar: All these are the envy of others,” the cardinal said.
He said that despite all these great blessings, Myanmar is today known in the world for the wrong reasons.
“Myanmar is dragged to international court. Big words are used against this country. Christmas calls for conversion and repentance. Conversion from hatred, repentance from all kinds of sins committed against God or fellow human beings,” he said.
“Myanmar needs to understand the world’s concern about the suffering of people from Myanmar. It wants a peaceful resolution and return of the affected people,” Bo said.
At the same time, the cardinal said the world needs a greater understanding of Myanmar.
“Myanmar as a nation has its own legitimate reasons for security. Countries all over the world take security precautions. The world needs to understand the struggle democracy faces in this country. The international community needs to accompany this nation of fledgling democracy,” he said, voicing his opposition to any sanctions against the country, saying they “will adversely impact our simple people.”
On Dec. 10, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on several high-ranking military officers in Mynamar.
The cardinal noted that the international community has the best wishes for his country, and must help make Myanmar’s dream of becoming a peaceful, democratic country a reality.
“The people of Myanmar can afford no more nightmares. Their heart holds a pregnant dream. Christmas is the story of a dream of a better future. Let that dream be a reality in the Myanmar of today,” Bo said.
“The international events involving Myanmar today can force a relapse. Another relapse would be a shattering journey on a slippery rock. The people of Myanmar need understanding, advising, accompanying by the international community, not condemnation. Any sanction without consideration for the welfare of ordinary people will be a sad commentary on the world’s concern for our people,” he added.
The cardinal also called on leaders in Myanmar to engage with the international community.
“No man is an island. No country is an island. Myanmar needs more international friends. There are many countries that wish well for the people of Myanmar,” he said.
“Christ was the Prince of Peace. His birth in a simple manger brought powerful streaks of hope amidst the engulfing darkness of hatred and conflict. We are in such situation. Every long night of suffocating darkness ends in glorious dawn. Let Myanmar rise to a new dawn of hope and reconciliation,” Bo said.
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