Mandalay (AsiaNews) - Truly living "our Christian faith" is the first step in the process of evangelization, which is flanked by "pastoral and social work", which passes through education and healthcare. So says Msgr. Paul Zingtung Grawng, 74, Archbishop of Mandalay in central Myanmar, in an interview with AsiaNews on the missionary journey of his Church and the value of the Catholic faith in today's Burma. The South-East Asian nation - long dominated by a military regime - is undergoing great change after the recent political reforms promoted by President Thein Sein, with the support of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and Catholics can contribute actively to human and social progress. "Because believing in and living the faith in first person - says the bishop - it is our way of witnessing."
Bishop Paul explains that "the work of evangelization" is moving in two directions: the " the Church's pastoral work" on a local level and "social development" through "education, health, school," these too become paths to bear witness to the Word of God and the Christian message. Direct apostolate to people, the archbishop continued, "is not easy" but celebrations can become an opportunity "to learn about our faith," the rites of the tradition and their deeper meaning.
The prelate said that the Burmese Church, though young, is a "reality that is growing" and it is the duty of priests to "find a way to promote their pastoral work." He stresses that "the devotion of the faithful" is one of the strengths of local Catholicism, even among members of the clergy who are personally experience the meaning of the word of God, through meditation, prayer. There is, however, he adds, the problem of improving "the formation of priests" and of strengthening the proposal for "new vocations". Only then will there be a greater impulse in the work of evangelization, such as the proposal to consecrated life for it to be embraced by a growing number of faithful.
The local church is very active "in supporting the development of people through education", with initiatives that look to young people: only through "study" and "quality teaching," says Msgr. Paul Zingtung Grawng, can "knowledge" be developed and "greater awareness of reality" gained. In this field the contribution of Catholics is essential and "may contribute to the development of all Myanmar." And there are cases of conversion from Buddhism, especially "within marriages." "In living together - said the prelate - from concrete testimony in everyday life" comes a curiosity, the desire to explore the Christian faith and, in some cases, the request for baptism.
For its history and tradition, Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar after Yangon, the country's economic and commercial center (the capital is Naypyidaw, built from scratch over the past years at the behest of the military leadership). The urban area of Mandalay has just under one million inhabitants and is on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, with a port that is a hub for trade in goods and products. The city is one of the most important centres for local Buddhism. The Archdiocese is home to about 24 thousand Catholics out of a total of nine million people, the most important place of worship is the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the territory is divided into 30 parishes, served by about fifty priests. (DS )