12/01/2017, 14.19
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Papal visit to Yangon a success, Catholic unity an example for the country, Bishops’ spokesman says

by Paolo Fossati

The whole country expressed joy for the success of the apostolic journey of Pope Francis. The small Catholic community has responded positively to his words. The faithful faced difficulties and made sacrifices to take part. Buddhist monks expressed admiration for Catholic unity and would like to be the same. From our correspondent

Yangon (AsiaNews) – "The unity shown by Burmese Catholics during the visit of the Holy Father is an example for the whole nation," said Fr Mariano Soe Naing (pictured), spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) and director of its Office of Social Communications (CBCM-OSC).

"The visit of Pope Francis was undoubtedly a real success,” Fr Mariano told AsiaNews in his initial account of Pope Francis’s historic apostolic visit to Myanmar, less than 24 hours after its conclusion.

“Many people, from different places and backgrounds, took part in the scheduled events. In particular, people from all ethnic groups were present at the Mass with young people celebrated by the Holy Father in St Mary’s Cathedral (pictured). This is a demonstration of the unity of the Church.”

“Even Buddhists admired how Catholics managed to be one body during the apostolic visit as well as the solemn function at the Kyaikkasan Grounds (pictured), where they showed off their discipline and devotion.”

“We are happy with the way in which the faithful participated, of the sacrifices they made to be present. I was there on the night of 28 November when the pilgrims entered the grounds, where they remained in an orderly fashion for more than 12 hours."

Fr Mariano noted that the whole of Myanmar, where about 89 per cent of the population is Buddhist and Catholics only 700,000, expressed satisfaction with the words pronounced by Pope Francis during his visit.

"The country is happy with the visit of the Holy Father. The implications of this historic event are very positive. The first one came when the pope arrived in Bangladesh, no longer using the term 'Rohingya',” said the CBCM spokesman, smiling. “Instead, he thanked Dhaka for the assistance given to 'people from Rakhine'. This is the first good thing the country got from the journey of Pope Francis."

The pontiff’s presence gave Burmese Catholics, most of whom belong to ethnic minorities, a profound feeling of pride in being part of the universal Church as well as a sense of responsibility of taking a leading role in the process of national reconciliation.

"The pontiff's desire to confirm us in our faith, to invite us to follow the Gospel have had a great impact on the hearts of the faithful. I am sure," said Fr Mariano.

“Another important aspect is the challenge the Holy Father set for our young people, that of becoming messengers among the suffering. It is up to us to build on the foundations of his message."

The pope's words surprised Catholics for their precision and the firm but delicate approach with which they treat the problems of the country.

"The homily given on 29 November is in line with the reality we live in Myanmar,” explained Fr Mariano. “The faithful who sat in front of him are all people who suffer from the civil war. The pope invited them to forgive and this is good for the whole nation.”

“I repeat: Now it is up to the leaders of the Burmese Church to build on what the Holy Father said. 'Love and Peace', the theme of the visit, is something concrete, not abstract; it is something that this country can achieve.”

“I read today the comments of important Buddhist monks on social media, which show images of the visit and invite people to 'be united like the Catholics'. Some say: 'Look at how they help each other, how they are well-behaved. Let's act like them!"

What happened in the past few days gave the Burmese people an opportunity to understand better the reality of the small Catholic community and its readiness to do more for the progress of the nation.

"With the visit of the Holy Father, in a certain sense the government and the nation have recognised our credibility as a Church,” the clergyman said. “We have shown who the Catholics are, and have made our identity clear.”

“Now it is clear that we can make a substantial contribution to the process of building our country, in the context of strong diversity and pluralism. Even the Christians of other nations, where Christians are small minority communities, can be inspired by the pope's words and become messengers. Other countries can learn from us, from our unity.”

“We have faced many difficulties, before the arrival of the Holy Father. First of all, the limited knowledge Burmese people had about the figure of the Pope. The start of the visit swept away all the doubts of non-Catholics about the importance of this event. We can be proud of having overcome many challenges, also thanks to the financial contribution of many Christians and to the assistance provided by the State."

"Our greatest concern before the arrival of the Holy Father was his use of that term (Rohingya), which would not have been accepted by the people of Myanmar. Some media also spread the word about possible demonstrations against the visit. However, I was convinced that that would not happen. For this reason, we were not prepared for this eventuality because we did not believe it possible."

There is one thing Fr Mariano will remember above all else. “Honestly, the moment that moved me the most during the apostolic trip was when the Holy Father greeted young people at the cathedral, asking the security staff not to intervene. Pope Francis was alone gathering their joy and warmth. The young people really felt the pontiff’s love and affection. It was like seeing a father show tenderness to his children."

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