Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The Holy See and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar have decided to establish full diplomatic relations. Henceforth, an apostolic nuncio will be posted in the southeast Asian nation and an ambassador will represent Myanmar in Rome.
The Vatican Press Office made the announcement today after Pope Francis met this morning with Myanmar Foreign Affairs Minister Aung San Suu Kyi.
Until now, the Holy See had an apostolic delegate to Myanmar, but resident in Thailand. The Myanmar parliament had approved diplomatic relations with the Vatican last March.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 and an iconic figure who spent years under house arrest during her country’s struggle for freedom, had met Pope Francis a few days after his election in 2013.
The Vatican's request for diplomatic relations accelerated in 2015 when Myanmar’s first civilian president was elected after 50 years of military dictatorship.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her government face huge challenges: reviving an economy still largely controlled by the military, making development work for wider segments of the population affected by poverty, and reconciling the nation and its various ethnic groups after years of war.
One major issue that remains is that of the status of the Rohingya, a Bengali Muslim group that migrated to Myanmar (then known as Burma) when it was under British rule, whose members are denied citizenship.
Several international organisations have criticised Aung San Suu Kyi for not addressing the Rohingya problem. Even Pope Francis in various statement and speeches has urged the international community to find a dignified solution for the Muslim group.
Card Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, was among those present at the meeting between the pontiff and Aung San Suu Kyi, a personal friend of his.
Recently, the prelate took part in the first interfaith peace conference in Yangon. For the cardinal, the Catholic Church in Myanmar can help "build the nation through peace and reconciliation, human development, education and affirmation of the rights of indigenous peoples".
Cecilia Brighi, founder of the association ‘Italia-Burma insieme’ (Italy-Burma Together), yesterday met with Aung San Suu Kyi to find ways for co-operation between Myanmar and Italy.
She reiterated the importance of today's visit to the pontiff. "The Catholic Church in Myanmar,” she said, “despite being a minority, plays a very important role in interfaith dialogue. Card Charles Bo is a very important figure in this context because he has a vision for the social and political role of religious institutions.”
In fact, “Today’s meeting with the pope is an important recognition of the role the Church plays at the social level, in terms of transparency and the fight against corruption, and in strengthening the country’s process of democratisation.”
At the same time, “The meeting is also an important signal to the military, who in some parts of the country have fueled violence against Christians. The more the country is unstable and more soldiers can maintain their power intact, both political and economic, because this way they can influence the government’s choices."