When I think of Pope Francis, the words of the Magnificat fill my heart. “He has raised the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
Myanmar was a wounded nation. Wounded by war, displacement, oppression of Christians for six decades. Our people always love their shepherds, their priests, their bishops. But they reserve their special love for their pope.
For six decades, Christians were denied their rights, their properties were confiscated, and their schools nationalized. The missionaries who brought the gospel were exiled. Six decades of darkness.
Evil men thought the Church would collapse. With their simple faith and support from other Catholics, The Church in Myanmar not only survived but thrived.
Hundreds of the young become priests and religious, making ours a vibrant church in South East Asia: From two dioceses, now we are 16 dioceses.
But we are a very poor church. We are just 700,000 Catholics in a country of 55 million people. We are really the margin of the margins.
To many Catholics in the world, this tiny flock of Myanmar Catholics was unknown. We were powerless; we were a minority; we had no great achievements.
But this pope shocked the world when he named a Cardinal from this nation and this tiny flock.
A true prophet, a man of God, a man who reached out to the margins, the man who articulates the pain and brokenness of humanity in powerful words, saw this flock in the margin.
He put that flock in the margin on the world map. For the Myanmar Catholics, there was no prouder moment.
Nearly 300 people paid their way to Rome to see this great Shepherd. Every Myanmar Catholic felt the great love this Shepherd of the masses showered on them.
Suddenly this persecuted population could sing and dance with joy: “He has done marvels for me!”
This is a great healing for a wounded Catholic population. Suddenly, it felt itself lifted from the depth of despair into the pinnacle of glory. One among them is the Prince of the Catholic Church!
This was not only a symbolic tokenism, but a realization of genuine love for those in the margin. He reiterated his love and recognition once again when he appointed the same Cardinal to be his legate for the 51st Eucharistic Congress held in the biggest Asian Catholic Country, the Philippines, in 2016.
Always a prophet of mercy and compassion, his voice is raised on topics considered sensitive even by great powers of the earth.
His recent comments on Rohingyas and their suffering drew a lot of surprise, because they are Muslims, they are even abandoned by their co-religionists.
But the voice of Pope Francis is heard from the roof tops: “Save our Muslim brethren in Myanmar!”
In a heart wrenching appeal during his February 8 general audience – a time of prayer – the pope called attention to Muslim suffering in Myanmar. He is the father of all those who suffer in Myanmar.
He not only raised the Myanmar Church to the level of the big churches of the world, but he is also challenging us to take up our social mission and the promotion of justice as an integral part of our faith. We are proud to be Catholics in this Pope Francis era.
In the history of the Church in Myanmar, the time of Pope Francis will be marked by gratitude and grace. Every Catholic will remember him and say “He was our good shepherd, who left the ninety nine sheep and came in search of the lost one.”
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has served as the Archbishop Yangon since 2003. He was created a cardinal by Pope Francis on February 14, 2015.