The Archbishop of Yangon released a letter in which he expresses "the deep concerns of the Church about the challenges facing the people of Myanmar”, including military interference in the country’s political life. He calls on the army and the government to respect their respective roles, and warns against the growing religious intolerance in the country and Asia.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – Card Charles Maung Bo (pictured), archbishop of Yangon and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), released a letter yesterday for the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.
Titled Reflections from the Periphery – God’s love for the people and nations of Asia, the letter looks at the challenges the country faces noting that the time has come to end human rights violations, ethnic strife and religious tensions in order to seek peace, reconciliation, freedom and truth as well as celebrate differences and love creation.
The prelate’s message “is shaped by love, infused with a desire for justice and inspired by mercy. Myanmar needs all three – love, justice and mercy – desperately.” This is that more important since, in 2020, the people of Myanmar will take part in the second democratic election following the end of the military regime.
With the poll not far away, the Archbishop of Yangon wants to express the “deep concerns of the Church about the challenges facing the people of Myanmar today”, stressing that he is “a religious leader not a politician,” and that he is not “taking any particular side except that of peace, justice, reconciliation, human dignity and love.”
In the last seven years, the country has seen a ceasefire, the release of political prisoners, a democratic election, and the formation of a civilian government. For the prelate, this seemed to be “the beginning of a new dawn”; however, “in recent years very dark clouds have appeared again, overshadowing the flickers of light that had begun to emerge. Continuing conflict, continuing abuses, and the spread of religious and racial hatred threaten the hopes, freedoms and dignity of people throughout the country.”
“For the Church, peace is at the heart of our mission. But peace must always be accompanied with justice and freedom” for it hinges “on respect for ethnic and religious diversity” as well as the protection of “the basic human rights of every single person, regardless of race, religion or gender.” This “means pursuing a dialogue based on trust-building and respect” without “grievances of the ethnic nationalities”.
The solution lies with a federal system for the various ethnic groups that “ensures that natural resources are shared and distributed to benefit the people, rather than plundered and hoarded by a small elite.”
To reach this goal, it is necessary to have a “proper understanding of the legitimate role of a nation's armed forces.” Noting the Church teachings on war and the use of force, the cardinal slammed the fact that far too often “civilians become the targets of war, resulting in their displacement and sometimes brutal massacre.”
“There are areas of the country, particularly in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, where people in desperate need are cut off from assistance, where humanitarian access is denied. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflicts between different groups in our country, no one should be denied the most basic of rights, the right to food, shelter, medicine and education.”
The military campaigns by Myanmar’s Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) and their great power over the country's government have contributed to the escalation of various humanitarian crises and pushed the country towards international isolation. For this reason, the archbishop calls on political leaders and the military to respect their respective roles.
“Currently due to our fragile democracy we do need the assistance and protection of the military.” But “No army in a civilised society can be above the law; no soldier in a humane society can be allowed to commit crimes with impunity. If soldiers are to be respected, they must take their place in the barracks and not in the legislature, serving the country under the authority of an elected civilian government.
Another challenge that Myanmar is called to overcome is the growing threat to religious freedom, which for Card Bo is the foundation of all human rights.
“Preachers of hatred incite discrimination and violence in the name of a peaceful religion, unjust laws and regulations impose restrictions on religious freedom for minorities, and identity politics has mixed race, religion and politics into a dangerous cocktail of hate and intolerance.
“This is true not only in Myanmar, but throughout Asia – the world's most diverse continent, where all the world's major religions meet, and where a majority in one country is a minority in another.”
“Let us unite as a nation based on the values of Metta (loving kindness) and Karuna (compassion) from the Buddhist tradition, of salam (peace) from the Islamic tradition, and the Christian principle of loving one's neighbour as oneself, and loving one's enemy.”
“The Church in Myanmar stands ready to be a place of mercy for all, to be a centre of reconciliation, to defend the rights of everyone everywhere of every religion and ethnicity, no exceptions, and to tear down barriers and move fences and counter hatred with love.”
(For the full text of the letter, see below).