Benedict Rogers: My Easter in Myanmar, the land where I became a Catholic
by Francis Khoo Thwe

The Asian director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide speaks of his special bond with the country and the Archbishop of Yangon. Water as an element of purification, which unites Catholics and Buddhists who are celebrating major holidays together in 2014. The universality of the Church "does not mean uniformity", but appreciation of the local culture. The Burmese Church is "a vibrant Church".

Yangon ( AsiaNews) - "The symbolism of water" is an element that unites Burmese Catholics and Buddhists who in  2014 celebrated the two most important events of the liturgical year in the same week: the Christian Easter and "Thingyan", the Buddhist New Year , better known as the "Festival of Water" . For Catholics, "every time we make the sign of the cross with holy water" we are reminded of the baptismal water, while for the followers of the Buddha water represents "the purification of sins, washing away the mistakes made in the previous year, rebirth". This is what Benedict Rogers, a journalist and human rights activist born in London, East Asia team leader for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) tells AsiaNews.  Last year (pictured) in Myanmar - on the occasion of Sunday Palm - he was welcomed into the Catholic Church . "This is an interesting element in common for Buddhists and Catholics - he adds - albeit from different religious perspectives".

A leading expert on Burmese affairs , he wanted the ceremony to take place in Yangon and it was presided over by the local archbishop. In fact , it was Msgr. Charles Bo who played a key role in his decision to become Catholic, a decision matured over time after a long period of study and reflection. The ceremony was attended by Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, atheists and Buddhists , confirming the strong bond he has established with the local population.

In his years of mission in the various Asian countries, he has met prominent figures from the Catholic world, including Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Religious Minorities in Pakistan, assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists in March 2011 because of his outspoken opposition to the notorious blasphemy laws. His decision to convert to was also influenced by meditations and readings , including von Balthasar, de Lubac and the encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI, in particular Caritas in Veritate . His story is concrete evidence of how a country that is still considered missionary territory, instead becomes an opportunity to meet Christ, to proclaim the Gospel, to a rediscover the Catholic faith that Europe and the West seem to have abandoned .

In these days of approaching Easter, Benedict Rogers wanted to return to Myanmar to celebrate his first year as a Catholic and take part in a spiritual retreat in preparation for the solemn rites of Holy Week. He also said that the Burmese, like the faithful throughout the world, go to confession, participate in Eucharistic Adoration, pray , fast and follow the Way of the Cross . "What strikes me - he says - is that the Church's universality does not mean uniformity. I have been to Mass all over the world in the past year, in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Sweden, Indonesia, the United States and Burma, and with my Missal I can follow the Mass whatever language it is in, which I love, but at the same time, in each corner of the world the local culture and language are also reflected in the Mass. For example, in Burma when we exchange the sign of peace we don't shake hands, as we do in Britain - instead we greet each other with our hands together in an Asian sign of peace".

The Burmese Church , he says, is a " is certainly a living Church- sometimes I joke that I am not so much a 'Roman' Catholic as a 'Burmese' Catholic".  "It makes a significant contribution to wider society, the Church's contribution to speaking out for and providing practical humanitarian assistance to the marginalized, the poor, the internally displaced, victims of war and conflict and persecution, combined with catechesis and sharing and practicing every aspect of the faith."

Easter time, said the activist, is a privileged moment "to remember and reflect on the pain and suffering ," but at the same time a source of "hope" and joy. Together with the " spiritual truths " contained in the death and resurrection of Jesus, he recalls the "symbolism" that links the recent past of Myanmar, marked by decades of dictatorship; a " crucifixion " for the nation and the people, which seems projected towards "a promise of resurrection". " There are fears emerging that these past two years have been a false dawn", says Benedict Rogers quoting the Archbishop of Yangon , but "I hope that is not true, and that the promise of 'resurrection' will be fulfilled for Burma". The activist concludes:"Easter will always be a time to remember my journey of faith into the Catholic Church with special affection. So Easter means a huge amount to me personally, at every level, and particularly here in Burma".