Bangkok (AsiaNews) – “Myanmar is a clear case of climate change. Before cyclone Nargis, we did not have a natural disaster of this intensity for 75 years,” said Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, in his homily at the opening Mass of a two-day seminar on climate change organised by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC).
Myanmar, noted the prelate, who is the first cardinal in the country's history, is at a turning point because “ocean currents, affected by global warming,” brought deadly devastation to its coastline. At present, the country is also coping with the emergency created by recent devastating floods.
However, compared to the past, this calamity has seen greater solidarity among ordinary people, from every walk of life and religion. Private individuals, businesses and institutions continue to raise money, collect necessary goods and items, and bring aid, food and basic necessities to the most affected areas.
Under the impetus of Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ encyclical on the environment and creation (our "common home"), the FABC organised a two-day regional climate change seminar in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, with the aim of providing a "concrete solutions" to the emergency.
In the Mass that inaugurated the meeting, the Myanmese cardinal, who heads the FABC Department for Human Development, talked about the natural disasters that hit Myanmar in recent years.
In 2008, cyclone Nargis killed more than 150,000 people, making some 800,000 homeless. Two weeks ago, torrential rains and flooding struck the country affecting nearly 1.7 million people. Some 37 million farmers have seen their livelihood affected by a spiral of destruction and debt.
“We have lost so much flora and fauna in the last 50 years. Forests and rivers are being destroyed. The Mekong River, the Irrawaddy River and so many rivers in East Asia are dangerously exploited. What were sporadic attacks on our ecosystem has now turned into a chronic illness for our planet.”
For the prelate, Asia’s Churches have to take the lead in combating climate change. In his homily today, he warned that “evil is marching with glee, destroying human families, destroying God's gift of nature.”
As the Holy Father indicated in his encyclical, there is a conspiracy against the poor. “Ninety per cent of the deaths due to natural disasters come from poor countries. [. . .] In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.”
If “the environmental crisis has become a moral crisis", a “new culture of eco justice and interdependence” is needed now more than ever. Indeed, in "an unjust world that buries ten million children every year because of starvation,” which the prelate describes as a “silent genocide,” the “Holy Father's message is a wakeup call to the church in East Asia”.
In the meantime, individual volunteers and associations, including Catholic ones, continue to bring aid to people affected by cyclone Komen, which hit Myanmar in late July, and the torrential rains that followed. Scores of ordinary people mobilised to collect items and raise funds, online and social media as well.
Sources told AsiaNews that some wealthy Kachin Christians have paid for food and basic necessities. A Burmese businessman donated two million dollars. This shows that solidarity is not an empty word among the people of Myanmar.
Emergency aid has been pouring in from near and far, including from Church organisations. The Karuna Mission Social Solidarity, the Catholic Church’s social aid arm in Myanmar, is a party to those efforts. Its national office in Yangon said it was helping six dioceses provide food, shelter and safe drinking water to more than 120,000 people.
Buddhists (who are the majority in Myanmar) but also Christians and Muslims have all shown great generosity and solidarity at such a critical moment.
So far, more than a hundred people have been confirmed dead after floodwaters inundated towns and fields in the states of Kachin and Rakhine, and the regions of Sagaing and Magway Region. The United Nations has said that some 160,000 people were still in need of life-saving assistance.