Yangon (AsiaNews) - Part
two of an in-depth analysis by a Burmese priest and scholar of the
challenges facing the Burmese Church on the path of the mission. Peace and
reconciliation are the elements from which to start, to heal the wounds of a colonial
past (Portuguese and British) that, even today, in some cases, result in Christianity
being seen as a "foreign religion ". The fundamental guidelines laid down
by John Paul II in the Post-Synodal exhortation "Reconciliatio et paenitentia",
which invited the faithful to "pacify souls, moderate tensions, overcome
Myanmar, a country with a large Buddhist majority, has been plagued by a series of sectarian violence since 2012 that has left at least 300 dead and 140 thousand displaced persons; most of the victims are Muslim Rohingyas, in the western state of Rakhine, epicenter of tensions, targeted by Buddhist extremists. In a situation of ethnic and religious tension Catholics can provide a great contribution to the "nation building", as pointed out by the Archbishop of Yangon and Cardinal-elect Charles Bo, operating "in education, in schools, in health care."
2. The ways of proclaiming the Gospel message
In Adoniram Judson's third meeting with the Burmese monarch, King Bagyidaw asked him, "Do you, followers of Jesus dress like other Burmans?" What the Bamar monarchs were most suspicious of was not necessarily the matter of conversion to Christianity but rather the problem of converts losing their culture identity and associating with western culture and imperialism.
Once, a Christian inspector remarked that Christians are not interested in Buddhism. They think they are in possession of the one true religion. Indeed, some Catholic bishops and leaders of other Christian denominations still believe it is their duty to convert everyone to the Christian faith, and especially to convert as many Burmese as possible. Actually, the word "Incarnation" in Buddhist culture means "preservation of cultural identity by a person of Christian faith".
In spite of this statement, under colonial rule, the missions made many converts among the ethnic minorities. Consequently, a division along ethnic, religious, and cultural lines developed between the Christian ethnic minorities and the Buddhist Bamar (Burmese) majority. The division sharpened as the nationalist movement developed on a basis of Buddhist traditionalism. The nationalists looked on the Christians as Western in outlook and pro-British in political sympathy. Christianity is regarded as foreign because of its late arrival in the country and the slowness of its adaptation to the local culture and mentality, while Buddhism was already well rooted in the hearts of the people.
Conclusion and a Way Forward
In this historical memory, Christianity is filed always alongside imperialism, oppression, arrogance, disdain and superior strength. The approach of this kind of historical memory of Christianity must be critically reappraised before healing and reconciliation can be achieved. It is also possible to speak of a kind of Christian 'superiority complex', which stands in the way of rapprochement, mutual respect and good understanding.
Therefore, today one of the great social concerns of the Church in Myanmar as in Asia is the building of peace. Asia is an arena of intermittent violent ethnic, religious, and political conflict. The Church is often called to be a builder of peace in such situations or even conflict which on many occasions are attributed to religious differences and biases. We need to serve as a prophetic voice for peace in the midst of conflict. The road to peace is long and arduous. Pastoral efforts of formation and dialogue must aim at the building of a culture of peace among ourselves and others, based on integrity, respect, understanding and, ultimately, love. Hla Bu, a post-independence Christian professor of philosophy, reminds us that on the whole Buddhist leaders were critical of Christians as being uncooperative in national concerns. He suggested that Christians should cooperate with the Burmese Buddhist people and government to be patriotic citizens. It is a good suggestion, and therefore, in all types of social services, it should be seen by the people that the Christians are genuinely concern for the people in Myanmar.
Finally, to overcome the above hindrances, the Christian Churches in Myanmar have to continue in the process of reconciliation for the wounded stories in the past, and to transform the way of proclaiming the Gospel among the people in Myanmar as Pope John Paul II said: "To the people of our time, so sensitive to the proof of concrete living witness, the church is called upon to give an example of reconciliation particularly within herself. And for this purpose we must all work to bring peace to people's minds, to reduce tensions, to overcome divisions and to heal wounds that may have been inflicted by brother on brother when the contrast of choices in the field of what is optional becomes acute".