Myanmar Catholics urged to speak out for their country

On Mission Sunday, Cardinal Charles Bo, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, called on the faithful to speak up in these challenging times for their country, saying the Church always holds the light of hope amidst all darkness.

By Lisa Zengarini

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon has urged Catholics in Myanmar to speak out against the evil that is ravaging their country “not out of hatred but out of love”. He made this heartfelt call in his homily for Mission Sunday, on October 24.

Reflecting on the theme chosen this year by Pope Francis – ‘We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20) –, Cardinal Bo remarked that these are “challenging times to speak” in the country, where the escalation of brutal repression by the military continues relentlessly nine months after the coup on February 1.

Silence can be criminal 

In the face of such ruthless violence also targeting churches, the prelate called on the faithful “to speak out to the powers that are spiritually blind”, as the Apostles and early Christians did against the Roman Empire, pointing out that “silence can be criminal in times when evil chose to dance in the streets”. 

He reminded how Jesus spoke up against the powerful, recalling his words when he was slapped by the Roman soldier and asked: ‘If I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?’. “The soldier who slapped Jesus had no answer.  In the face of truth, weapons become impotent”, he said, noting that Pilate too chose “criminal silence”.

Hearing the cry of our people 

Remarking that this year’s Mission Sunday calls upon the Church to listen, see and walk as a Synodal Church with the people, the Archbishop of Yangon further recalled the “unending way of the Cross”  endured by the people in Myanmar  since the military coup.  “We hear the cry of our people who like Jesus are wounded with five wounds: COVID, conflict and displacement, collapse of the economy, climate disaster and crisis after crisis,” he said.

Experiencing God’s love and hope like the Apostles 

Cardinal Bo reminded that proclaiming the Good News of God’s Love in a country that has seen “some of most inhumane suffering” of innocent people, can only be done by encountering the Lord and experiencing His love like the Apostles did.  “Internalising the hatred nurtured by our enemies”, would “mean defeat”, he stressed. However experiencing the living God does not make things easier. “The first Christians began the life of faith amid hostility and hardship (…) the same experience of brutal violence, death and fear stalk our people; especially the youth”, Cardinal Bo noted.

This is why in this year’s message for Mission Sunday Pope Francis urges the Church to animate hope citing the example of the disciples who knew they were not alone: “The Church holds the light of hope amidst all darkness. That is evangelization”, Cardinal Bo said.

Reaching out to our enemies

He therefore stressed “that compassionate hope” even for our enemies is the mission of the Church especially in today’s Myanmar: “The Church of Myanmar needs to move to highways and byways; to the jungles of displaced people, the homes  of the  unending laments,  in remote villages of  anxious poor  hiding to protect their children from untimely death. And even to those who chose the path of evil: the Pope says ‘ no one excluded’ giving the enemy the benefit of humanity”.

Stop selling weapons to Myanmar

Cardinal Bo ended his homily with a strongly worded call on world powers to stop exporting weapons to Myanmar: “Seek real power, that is in service; that is in compassion”, he said. “Let all of us Myanmar people, pray and continue to pray, that this nation can see the day of peace.  Let us nurture that hope that Myanmar will rise again in its compassionate love, in Karuna (compassion) and Metta ( Mercy). Let us hope of a peaceful nation be our message of  Evangelization in this country”, he concluded.

UN report on human rights in Myanmar

On October 22, the UN expressed concerns that the human rights situation in Myanmar could further deteriorate following the movement of thousands of troops to the north and north-west of the country, where clashes with ethnic militias continue to occur. The military government rejected the UN stance as an “incitement to violence” in the country.  

Since the February 1 coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic government, the country has plunged into chaos with the military failing to neutralize the coup opposition, while People’s Defense Forces continue to fight the Burmese army.