Catholics number about 700,000, 1 per cent of the population. “Burmese Catholics are looking forward to giving the Holy Father a warm welcome,” said Mgr Alexander Pyone Cho, bishop of Pyay. “We are very happy. Ours is a very devoted community, dedicated to prayer and church life.” Pope Francis's appeal in favour of the Rohingya causes controversy. “[T]here is no reason to fear for his security." Extremism and economic interests are behind the violence in Rakhine.
Pyay (AsiaNews) – Despite the ongoing tensions and violence in western Myanmar, the Burmese Catholic Church is getting ready to welcome Pope Francis when he undertakes his apostolic visit to the Asian country, travelling to the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, from 27 to 30 November 2017.
AsiaNews spoke to Mgr Alexander Pyone Cho, bishop of Pyay (Bago Region), about how Catholics are looking forward to the pope’s visit.
Catholics in Myanmar number about 700,000, or 1 per cent of the population. The Holy See and the Union of Myanmar established full diplomatic relations on 4 May during a private meeting between Pope Francis and Aung San Suu Kyi.
On 12 August, the pontiff appointed Archbishop Paul Tschang In-Nam as apostolic nuncio to the country.
Although a small minority, local Catholics rejoiced when they heard the news about the apostolic visit.
"Burmese Catholics are looking forward to giving the Holy Father a warm welcome,” said Mgr Pyone Cho. “We are very happy. Ours is a very devoted community, dedicated to prayer and church life."
In opposition to such joy among Catholics, the pope’s appeal in favour of Rohingya Muslims during Angelus on 27 August did not sit well with many Buddhists, who constitute the majority of the population.
"That’s true,” the bishop said. “Some expressed anger over those comments. But these are a few ignorant people who are full of biases about other religions. They do not even know what the Church is.”
Following the reactions to the pope's remarks, some Catholics expressed fears for his security during the visit. Archbishop Pyone Cho dispelled the fears. "The place the Holy Father will visit are peaceful, there is no reason to fear for his security."
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority living primarily in the western Rakhine state, are a very sensitive topic in Myanmar.
"Tensions have ancient roots, dating back to the colonial period, when Muslims arrived in the country from Bangladesh to work in agriculture,” the prelate said.
“Extremism then exasperated the situation, causing the explosion of violence in 2012. Since then, things have deteriorated. "
Over the past few days, Myanmar has captured the attention of the international community following the breakout of fresh fighting on 25 August and the worsening humanitarian situation in Rakhine.
For the bishop of Pyay, there are no religious motives behind the violence, but economic interests. "Armed [Muslim] fighters want to seize resource-rich lands belonging to local ethnic groups."