Manila (AsiaNews) - "On behalf of the Church and the people of Myanmar, I offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families who lost loved ones" in the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines. "In 2008, our nation went into mourning when a Category 4 Violent storm codenamed Nargis hit our nation and killed more than 150,000 people. We know your pain and we feel your pain today and pray for you," said Mgr Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, in a homily he pronounced over the weekend in Manila, where he led a Solemn Mass and took part in the 34th edition of the Intramuros procession.
Since 1980, Filipino Catholics have held celebrations on the first Sunday of December, ahead of the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. This year, this event fell on the first Sunday of Advent, and the organising committee invited the Burmese prelate, who led the Eucharist at the Church of St Augustine.
In his address to Filipino Catholics, Mgr Charles Bo called upon them in their time of trial and mourning to perform a reverse hurricane: "the hurricane of humanity, the hurricane of compassion, [and] the hurricane of service to those affected." For him, people "become immortal" in this "sacred moment of regaining our humanity."
Noting that "it will take time to heal wounds," something Myanmar knows all too well following the devastation of Nargis, he went to emphasise "the valour and generosity of ordinary Filipinos who rushed with aid and volunteers", a stance that will help them prevail over the devastation.
In this season of Advent, the prelate stressed the importance of being "prepared" for events, extolling the figure of the Virgin Mary, the only one who was able to recognise the Lord's coming.
In his homily, Mgr Bo spoke about the difficulties the country went through in its recent history - poverty, migration, dictatorship - which unite the Philippines and Myanmar in an ideal way.
"You had the hurricane of oppression," he explained. "But as a people you overcame it without bloodshed, without violence because, like Mary, you believed in the power of empty hands, and in the power of truth and faith."
"Such a history was repeated in my country," the Archbishop of Yangon said. "The arrogance of military power was melted by the charm and grace of a simple woman," Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Burmese archbishop, who spent four days in the Philippines, met Card Luis Antonio Tagle. He also expressed his admiration for the faith of the Filipino people, urging them not lose the traditions and cultural elements that have defined it in through history.
Citing the case of a Burmese monk who, after a trip to the Philippines, found that "Filipinos may not believe in heaven, but they believe in America", Mgr Bo warned his audience. "Today's Gospel," he said, "calls upon us to be on guard against illusions," and Filipinos must protect their heritage for "Culture is the soul of a people."
"Consumerism and imitating the Western culture are like thieves that enter our unguarded houses," he explained. "This is a challenge Christianity faces today," which requires us "to think globally and remain rooted in our culture."
"I say this with great love," Mgr Bo said as he concluded his homily. "Because you are the biggest Catholic Country in Asia, what you do as Christians is reflected in the other parts of Asia. Not only in culture but also in driving out poverty, Asia looks towards the Philippines."