ROME – In his Easter message, Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon drew a parallel between Jesus’s own suffering and death and his country’s fight for democracy, saying the resurrection of Christ is a sign of hope and a call to reconciliation as conflict continues.

The message was published March 31 and titled, “Let My Country Awake from the culture of Death towards the Culture of Hopeful Resurrection.”

Bo noted that since the country’s military coup began Feb. 1, “500 of our country men and women were crucified.”

“For the last two months, Myanmar witnessed a real time Way of the Cross. Torture, abuse, merciless killings made it the 21st Century Calvary,” he said, adding, “as brutality spread everywhere, depression and loss of faith crept in.”

However, “Those who struggle for the dignity of others, never die. They live in history,” he said, noting that the Jesus’s cross ended with his resurrection.

“A new era started. Those who tortured Christ, those who cried for his blood, those who crucified him were consigned to the garbage of history. Jesus is the center of history. Take heart,” he said, insisting that Myanmar’s own Via Crucis “will never go in vain. It will end in the resurrection of freedom, democracy and peace and prosperity to all.”

“With that hope, dance with joy and proclaim to all powers of darkness: Jesus has risen: Hallelujah- Myanmar will rise again!”

For nearly two months protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets throughout Myanmar to protest the arrest and detention of the country’s elected State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other top government officials Feb. 1 on grounds of voter fraud during the November 2020 elections.

In response to the mass demonstrations, security forces have fired on unarmed civilians, including children, and there have been numerous accounts of beatings, arbitrary arrests, and night raids on the homes of suspected opposition members.

Over the weekend Myanmar saw its bloodiest day yet, with at least 114 people killed on Saturday alone amid the military crackdown. More than 520 people have been killed in total since the coup began.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss Myanmar’s military coup, and on the same day, the country’s junta declared a month-long ceasefire, but insisted they would continue to respond to “actions that disrupt government security and administration.”

Broadcast on Myanmar’s state television MRTV, the junta’s statement called on ethnic armed groups to maintain peace and said they would suspend operations from April 1-30.

The reference to ethnic armed groups appeared to be at the heart of the ceasefire. Since Saturday, Myanmar’s security forces have conducted airstrikes in the country’s Karen state, as many of the villages there are controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), one of many armed ethnic groups to come out in support of opposition protests, and which controls large portions of territory in the borderlands.

In his Easter message, Bo said the feast, recognized as the holiest day on the Christian calendar, “comes during the saddest days in Myanmar history.”

“A blood bath has flown on our sacred land. Young and old and even the children have been mercilessly killed,” he said, noting that like the biblical figure of Job, it is normal for people to ask, “Where is God? Why has our God who promised not to forget us, even if the mother forgets us, seemed to have abandoned us?”

Each person is made in the image of God, Bo said, meaning that “the war against our youth, killing them in the street, is a war against human dignity.”

“Anyone who kills God’s innocent people will have to answer to God. No international agency is as powerful as God,” he said, noting that when Cain killed Abel in the bible, God said the land was soaked in his blood.

The same can be said of those killed protesting for democracy, he said, saying, “innocent blood will cry out generation after generation to God till justice is done. What was perpetrated against people does not go unseen or unheard. God has his own time. He is not only a God of love, but he is also God of justice.”

God always stands “with the most vulnerable,” Bo said, adding that “When people struggle for justice, it is God who takes sides with the oppressed and knocks down all arrogant Pharaohs. History will repeat, because Yahweh is the living God and he never forgets his people.”

Jesus’s death and resurrection at Easter is a reminder that there is hope, and it is a time to “start the process of healing this nation,” he said, adding, “A wounded nation can find solace in Christ who underwent all that we are undergoing.”

Drawing a parallel between the women who go to Jesus’s tomb after his death only to find it empty and Myanmar’s fight for democracy, Bo said the message Jesus sends with his resurrection “is not one of vengeance, not violence, not despair: it is one of hope.”

“We thought democracy was the light – the prophesy of Isaiah which said the people who have walked in darkness have seen the light! Let the dreams of democracy buried for the last two months in the graves of oppression be resurrected,” he said.

And in the opened and empty graves, “bury the seven decades of totalitarianism” that Myanmar has endured, he said, adding, “Let the last epitaph of coup be written on it.”

Bo then repeated his frequent appeal to nonviolence, especially among the youth, insisting that Jesus did not use violence on those who crucified him, but prayed for them, saying, “Father forgive them; they do not know what they do.”

While this might not be a popular approach to the current situation, nonviolence is the most effective response, he said, noting that “More nonviolent struggles succeeded in the twentieth century than violent ones. They attract a large section of the population. It wins the admiration of the world.”

“This is the path you need to follow. If you do not like the methods of the enemy, you cannot justify adopting his methods to resist him,” Bo said.

Violence is the only method the devil knows, and “He wants you to draw you into his violent turf, where he is powerful,” Bo said, telling youth to “Deny him that turf advantage.”

“Defeat him with love, defeat him with humanity. That was the message of the Cross. That is the destiny of this nation. Let a new Myanmar of peace and prosperity rise from the grave of hatred and darkness,” he said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen