04/08/2015, 00.00
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For Burmese cardinal, the Church in Asia is a source of peace and reconciliation among nations

by Francis Khoo Thwe
The archbishop of Yangon spoke at a conference in Bangkok that drew 43 delegates from 14 nations. Race, religion and politics are among the "many challenges" the continent faces. Calling for mutual respect and unity in diversity to end decades of conflict, he stressed the importance of education and religious freedom as the foundations of coexistence.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The “Church’s mission” in Asia is “to be reconcilers and peace-builders in our world today,” said Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon (Myanmar) at a conference titled ‘Reconciliation and Peace in the Context of Asia’.

The event, which began yesterday at the Camillian Pastoral Care Centre in Bangkok (Thailand) until Saturday, drew 43 delegates, from 14 countries.

In his address, the archbishop noted that Asia is home to 60 per cent of the world population (4.5 billion people), a place where we can see “the beauty of diversity, the dynamism of economic development, the vibrancy of our different cultures, [. . .] a continent where religion matters – and where all the world’s religions have a place. Where Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Christianity meet each other.”

However, for Myanmar’s first cardinal, “we also see in some places the fragility of freedom, in other places the terror of totalitarian and tyrannical rulers, and in many parts of Asia we still see conflict, intolerance, strife and instability.”

Similarly, “Race, religion and politics, either alone or combined as a lethal cocktail, lie at the root of many of Asia’s challenges.” For this reason, in “the Church, we need to confront the challenges of our time and work to resolve the conflicts that threaten to tear our societies apart.”

Yet, "Reconciliation and peace are at the very heart of the Gospel. The Church does many things but surely there is only one overriding purpose and mission, and that is reconciliation [. . .] with God, to help reconcile others with God, and to help reconcile humanity with itself.”

In his Easter message, Cardinal Bo had stressed peace and reconciliation, as well as solidarity with the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, issue that he reiterated at the conference in Thailand.

"Our message must be clear,” he insisted, “violence, discrimination and hatred are not solutions. Extremism breeds extremism. [. . .] The best way to prevent violence and conflict is to combat intolerance. The best way for any of us to share our beliefs is through the way we live our lives but dialogue is also essential.”

For the archbishop of Yangon, Asia is pluralistic, from the Korean Peninsula to Pakistan, from India to Bangladesh, from China to Vietnam through Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and many other countries still. Hence, the concept of "mutual respect and unity in diversity" is important.

In recognising this, “we can put decades of strife and conflict behind us.” And for Catholics, the task of being “reconcilers and peace-builders” is a priority.

It is important to acknowledge however that “Peace is not simply the absence of war.” Citing the example of Myanmar, the cardinal noted that “despite the peace agreements and negotiations for a ceasefire, outbreaks of violence and tensions continue”.

“True, lasting peace can only come when there is a genuine political dialogue leading to a lasting settlement that respects the basic human rights of all people”. Peace depends on truth, which “cannot be built on a lie” or “false propaganda”. Instead, it is based both on justice, which "is not revenge,” and on "accountability for the crimes committed and recognition of guilt" combined with the "attempt to make amends."

For the Burmese prelate, it is crucial to respect basic freedoms, including freedom of thought, speech, conscience, and – more importantly – freedom of religion, which is "perhaps the most precious and most basic freedom of all”.

"No society can be truly democratic,” he went on to say, or “free and peaceful if it does not respect – and even celebrate – political, racial and religious diversity, as well as protect the basic human rights of every single person, regardless of race, religion or gender.”

For the archbishop of Yangon, an example of coexistence and dialogue was a conference held recently in Indonesia under the auspices of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which brought together people of different faiths.

Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadis, and Muslims met, discussed, prayed, visited their respective places of worship, and promoted moments of mutual understanding and cultural exchange.

Interestingly, meeting a former leader of an Islamist extremist group, who underwent such a change of heart and mind, showed participants from both Myanmar and Indonesia how it is possible for people to change. Dialogue is thus not enough unless it comes with actual deeds.

Furthermore, “Peace and reconciliation require education. That includes in our schools – a need to ensure that respect for religious and ethnic diversity is taught in the curriculum.”

Ultimately, for Cardinal Bo, "Peace and reconciliation require the rule of law, and just laws. Laws that restrict religious conversions or inter-religious marriage, laws that impede the construction of places of worship, laws that criminalise blasphemy [. . .] are laws that hinder true peace and reconciliation and sow seeds of conflict and division and resentment.”

(Shafique Khokhar contributed to this article)

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”