Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Myanmar government must give up "its aggressive nature," stop "bullying the innocent" and cause "injustice" to its people. Instead, it must try to "repair the damage already done," said Mgr Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, in an address to the thousands of people - Christians and non-Christians - who took part in the solemn celebrations for the 112th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Nyaunglebin.
The Marian shrine is located in Bago Region, about 145 km north of Yangon, in the diocese of Yangon. Between 7 to 9 February, over a 100,000 people - Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus - flocked to the site to pray to Our Lady, asking for intercessions for themselves and the country.
This year, the Myanmar government imposed fewer constraints and restrictions on pilgrims coming to Nyaunglebin. More people were thus encouraged to make the trip to the shrine from all over the country.
Prayers centred on bringing peace to the country and an end to sectarian violence, particularly between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State.
At least a thousand pilgrims from the northern state of Kachin attended the service.
Christians are concentrated in this part of the country, and the shrine is considered a privileged place for "spiritual renewal" where everyone can "boost their faith".
More than 200 priests, 300 religious and 3 archbishops led the celebrations.
Archbishop Charles Bo celebrated the solemn Eucharistic service at midnight on 8 February.
In his address, he called for "peace, justice and human development" for every ethnic and religious component of the Burmese nation.
In his homily, the archbishop of Yangon spoke of an "historic opportunity" for a real process of "reconciliation and reconstruction of our nation," thanks to the contribution of the Church in the areas of "education and human development."
Through Mary's intercession, we shall "rebuild" what "was lost". Throughout the ages, she "never stopped caring for the sick, the marginalised, the disabled, and orphans, for those who are without hope." She is the one who accompanies us in our "moments of joy and sorrow," Mgr Bo added.
This year, the Church in Myanmar will mark 500 years of history. It will also pay tribute to its martyrs, who, for five centuries, played a crucial role in the life and evangelisation of the Asian country. With their own blood, missionaries nurtured the "seed of faith" and Christianity.
"This is the moment of truth," the prelate noted. This is "a moment of truth for all of us who live in this land full of promise".
The starting point for "our beloved nation" must be "reconciliation" between its various groups.
Mgr Bo said he hoped that "the wounds of history can be healed," adding that the past "must neither be forgotten nor hidden" because concealing the "tragedy of the military dictatorship and its repression" means hiding "true peace and justice."
Finally, the Archbishop of Yangon paid tribute to the work done by the Church and the missionaries in favour of those "brothers and sisters" who live in the country's remote and mountainous areas, often forgotten by the authorities and the central government.
Missionaries "invented new languages," said the prelate, and brought in teachers and books "to build up the local church at the cost of their own lives."
Myanmar is a deeply divided nation, especially between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority.
Although just over 1 per cent of the country's population, Burmese Catholics' presence and work towards unity and peace are crucial in a society characterised by ethnic and sectarian strife.
For many ethnic groups, like the Karen and Kachin, being Christian is an ethnic marker. This however, should be the basis of exchange, not divisions, as the archbishop of Yangon stressed on several occasions in the past.