Cardinal Bo New Year message: new era of economic, environmental justice for Myanmar

In a New Year message, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon looks back at the trends in 2020 and finds reasons for hope that 2021 will be a golden opportunity to build a new Myanmar of justice and peace.

By Vatican News staff writer

As “human resilience” triumphs over the “nightmares of 2020”, Myanmar’s leading churchman evokes a new era of economic and environmental justice for his homeland, with peace, health and wealth for all, especially the poor and marginalized.   

“May this new year come as a blessing to all of you. The birth of the New Year is also the birth of hope. Let us celebrate hope as one nation,” writes Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon in a message to his fellow citizens for the New Year. 

Hope, resilience, compassion

The Archbishop of Yangon looks back at the year 2020, saying the pain and wounds of the pandemic have threatened human survival and livelihoods.  Nearly 122 million people in the world are facing starvation. Despite all this, “2020 is the story of human resilience,” the cardinal says, noting that scientists have come up with the vaccine with “astonishing speed”, kindling hope that the Covid-19 pandemic will end.

The cardinal, who is president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, says that the year has also been one of compassion when the people of Myanmar generously shared their food with those threatened by chronic starvation.  Myanmar is a “golden land” not because of its jade and diamonds but because the “people’s hearts are made of gold… They can melt at the sight of the tears of fellow human beings.” 

In a country with a fragile health infrastructure, he notes, the efforts of the government and front-line health workers checked the country’s death rate.  “Guns in war areas have fallen silent. Compassion has become the common religion. This is a golden opportunity to build a new Myanmar of justice and peace,” Cardinal Bo urges.

Injustice uncovered

However, the 72-year old cardinal notes, the virus has uncovered an “underlying visceral injustice”, where the economically and socially marginalized communities are disproportionally infected and die.

“The virus kills. Discrimination also kills. Disempowerment kills. Poverty kills,” the cardinal emphasizes, urging a “social surgery” is needed in the way we treat the poor and the vulnerable.  With the extensive destruction of forests, the cardinal says the virus jumps from exotic animals into the human population. It is an “existential crisis” of the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

“The senseless chronic war and displacement of seven decades” in Myanmar, according to the cardinal, is the worst pandemic. In a country of enormous resources, people are driven into poverty with modern forms of slavery and millions of young people forced into unsafe migration. For the Myanmar people, this is a life-time opportunity to banish, what he calls, “these pandemics” from their “wounded history”.

“Even superpowers which spend billions on the war machine, realized their folly when they understood they have more soldiers than doctors, more guns than ventilators”.

The Archbishop of Yangon laments the country has been looted for too long by international mafias, mercenaries and their local enablers, robbing billions from the people through drugs, and illicit trade in gems, jades, teak and other natural resources. “As a nation,” he says, “we need to rise up against these evil forces that eat out of the bowls of the poor.”

Nevertheless, he points out, any disorder, or disruption of social order, is not only a challenge but also an opportunity to “reset priorities” and “build back better”, reaching out to the vulnerable and bending “towards economic and environmental justice”.  

Evoking a new Myanmar

Cardinal Bo thus calls on all to “dream together” for a new Myanmar. He sees a clear and encouraging sign from people who voted overwhelmingly for “democracy and peace” in the November general election.  

It is time, he says, to “heal our fragmented identities based on race, religion and language”.  Stressing that “there is no peace without justice,” and that “there is dignity in diversity”, cardinal Bo appeals to those in authority to “respect the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all”.