Myanmar's newest bishop, an ethnic Chin, provides an opportunity for "Christian unity"
by Francis Khoo Thwe
Archbishop Bo led the ordination of the new bishop of Hakha in a ceremony attended by more than 4,000 people, with Christians from other denominations. The occasion gave everyone an opportunity to celebrate and rejoice, in a practical response to the "divisions" that can seriously undermine a community. Local bishops now bear witness to the faith as foreign missionaries once did.

Hakha (AsiaNews) - The celebration of "the Episcopal ordination of Mgr Lucius" was a moment of "joy" and "good news" for everyone, "both Catholics and members of other Christian denominations" in Chin State, said Mgr Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, who presided over the ordination of Mgr Lucius Hrekung as the new bishop of Hakha (capital of Chin State, western Myanmar).

The state is home to several ethnic groups speaking different languages ​​with very distinct historical and cultural identities. Ethnic Chin are however the main ethnic group with about 500,000 people and Christianity (Catholic-Protestant) is the state's main religion, but smaller groups practice various forms of animism. At 73 per cent, the state's poverty rate is the highest in the country with most residents working in agriculture.

Mgr Germano Penemote, counsellor at the Apostolic Nunciature in Bangkok, co-celebrated the Mass on Sunday, together with 15 other bishops, priests and nuns, as well 4,000 Catholic and non-Catholic worshippers. On this rare occasion, Christians from other denominations attended the Mass, postponing their own Sunday service to take part in the bishop's ordination.

In his homily, the archbishop of Yangon focused on the issue of "Christian unity," speaking for about 35 minutes in accordance with local Catholic custom.

"The history of the Diocese of Hakha goes back 50 years, a time characterised by faith and hope," Mgr Bo said. Unlike the early days of the first MEP missionaries, bishops, priests, and men and women religious are now largely drawn from the local population.

"Mgr Lucius comes out of this history," Archbishop Bo said, carrying the "torch of faith" that is passed "from generation to generation".

Being ordained is a moment of "happiness and good news for everyone," a concrete response to "divisions" that can sap the strength of a community.

Reiterating Pope Francis' view that divisions within the Church are a "scandal," the prelate called on the faithful to walk and grow "together," like a family.

In spite of ethnic (Chin, Kachin, Bamar, etc) and national (Indian, Chinese, European, American) differences, "we are one in the Church," he said.

Pope Francis named the new bishop on 29 October 2013 when he picked the then vicar general and cathedral parish priest as the new head of the diocese.

Born on 4 February 1959 at Hnaring (Diocese of Hakha), Mgr Lucius Hrekung attended the minor seminary in Mandalay after completing his primary studies. Afterwards, he studied philosophy and theology at the national major seminary, first in Mandalay then in Yangon.

His priestly ordination - with incarnation in the diocese of birth - occurred on 23 February 1989. After that, he posted as parish priest at Tedim, in Hnaring, moving later to the cathedral where, since 2010, he has also served as the vicar general.

Myanmar is a deeply divided nation, especially between the Buddhist majority and its Muslim minority.

Burmese Catholics are a small community (just over 1 per cent), but their presence and action in favour of unity and peace are essential in a society characterised by ethnic conflicts and sectarian clashes.

For many tribes and religious minorities, like Karen and Kachin, being Christian is an element in their identity. However, as the archbishop of Yangon reiterated on several occasions, being Christian has to be a factor of unity, not division.