05/05/2009, 00.00
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Nargis tragedy, a source of hope for the new Myanmar, says archbishop of Yangon

The prelate stresses how compassion united the population right after the cyclone. In a joint prayer service Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus remember the victims as well as the survivors who are still enduring hardships. Censorship by the ruling military junta prevents news from the affected areas in the Irrawaddy Delta region from filtering out.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – During an inter-faith prayer service to commemorate the victims of cyclone Nargis Mgr Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, said that he felt “painfully” close to its victims as well as to survivors who are “united” by the hope that they can rebuild their lives by means of “compassion” and a shared destiny and unity that brought together believers of different religions as one, members of a single family. The service was held last Saturday in St Peter’s Cathedral in Pathein to remember the 140,000 dead and 2.4 million people left homeless. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians as well as local authorities and residents took part in the event.

“Death ruled supreme for a day,” said Monsignor Bo. “The cyclone did not discriminate. It attacked us all” but “humanity rushed to help” and “the light of faith lit a small lamp in our heart.”

“Compassion,” for the archbishop of Yangon “became a common religion that day”, because so many worked together to bring help to the victims, raising money, as a group Burmese inmates did in a Thai prison (scraping together US$ 120), or bringing aid despite bans and censorship imposed by the country’s military dictatorship, which cracked down on the publication of news from the affected region. In fact “more than a third of Nargis stories were” never published,” Irrawaddy online reported because for the ruling junta “Burmese reporters have no right to investigate a story freely.”

News filtered out anyway, telling harrowing stories about farmland wiped out; fishermen unable to go back to work; people forced to rely on handouts to survive; women forced into prostitution in local nightclubs to survive.

Andrew Kirk, Country Director of Save the Children in Burma, said that over 500,000 people, including 200,000 children, are still living in makeshift shelters in the devastated Irrawaddy Delta area with this year’s monsoons just round the corner.

According to a survey, 51 per cent of households are still relying on food aid from humanitarian agencies. Only 25 per cent said they could feed themselves.

The Association of South-East Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations and the Myanmar government said that a total of US$ 690 million are needed from the international community over the next three years to restore the lives of those affected by the cyclone.

The situation in the Irrawaddy Delta remains difficult, but people should not become impatient, the archbishop of Yangon said. On the contrary, compassion is something Buddhists, Muslims and Christians all share.

Citing the Good Book he said that a year ago the Samaritan “counted no cost, looked for no religion but reached out for a man in need,” a reminder of the sense of solidarity that united the people of Myanmar, after the tragedy, when “Christian groups” reached “out to Buddhist villages with emergency supplies,” whilst “down the Phyapon River Buddhist monks” swam “across the violent waves to save Christian women.” In Yangon Muslims “organized one of the biggest emergency food supplies,” whilst “Hindu temples organized community meals.”

Hope lives on as two heartbreaking episodes show. In the first one a man in a village called Laputta had to choose between saving his mother or his wife and children. “I gave you life,” his mother told him just before her death, swept away by the rushing waters, but “you are responsible for your wife and two children” so let “me go and save them.” In the second a woman “carried her little brother and sister and pushed them to the shore” before “she herself fell into the river, never to come back.” What such examples show is the “courage, written in tears” of “the great power of compassion enshrined in the human heart,” the prelate said.

Lastly the archbishop said he hoped that such deaths would not be in vane, that they would stand as examples to remember and that the country might be strong to overcome its difficulties.

“We shall overcome not because we are powerful or rich,” he said, “but because we have protected a little lamp named compassion in every heart that shines through the darkness” so that we can assert “our common humanity.”

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