Myanmar cardinal thanks Western Christians for support during oppression

IMAGE: NS photo/Simon Caldwell

By Simon Caldwell

LIVERPOOL, England (CNS) — Myanmar’s
first cardinal has thanked the Christians of the West for helping to bring
democracy to his country.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said the
Catholic Church was “at the forefront” of supporting the people of
Myanmar, formerly Burma, during a dictatorship that lasted half a century.

Preaching at a May 22 Mass in
the Metropolitan Cathedral of
Christ the King, Liverpool, he declared: “Today, we are free.”

“The world community refused
to accept the oppression … and spoke against that,” Cardinal Bo said.

“The church as a community
refused to allow the oppression of Christians and others in Burma,” he
said. “Every church, including the U.K. church, was at the forefront of
supporting us.”

The cardinal told the
congregation that Catholics “are united by a special bond of community. It
is this sense of community which has helped many Christians around the world to
survive hardship and emerge stronger.

“My heart is filled with
gratitude to all the Christians, civil society leaders and governments, that
the sense of community helped them to think of Burma,” he added. “Your
concern has led us to see the light of democracy, and I urge you to continue to
accompany us, especially through your prayers.”

Cardinal Bo’s visit to Liverpool
was the final stop of a British tour at the invitation of the charities Aid to
the Church in Need and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. His visit came six
months after the National League for Democracy won a landslide election that
ended about 50 years of dictatorship in the Southeast Asian country.

Cardinal Bo told the
congregation in Liverpool that the dictatorship was a long “Calvary”
for the people of his predominantly Buddhist country.

“We were a crucified
nation,” he said. “Propagation of Christianity was banned, new
churches could not be built, and personnel had to be sent out of the country
for any training. In many places, being Christian was the greatest liability.

“The language and cultural
rights of our people were taken away by the one-language, one-race and
one-religion policy,” he said.

“Yet God did not abandon
our nation. The church was like the mustard seed and, like the biblical example,
it grew into a tree,” he said.

In the midst of the oppression,
he said, the Catholic Church in Myanmar became a “young and vibrant church.”

“The church grew from just
three diocese to 16 dioceses,” Cardinal Bo said. “From 100,000
people, we are over 800,000 faithful, from 160 priests to 800 priests, from 300
religious we are now 2,200 religious and 60 per cent of them are below the age of

Now, he said, Myanmar sends
missionaries to other countries.

Cardinal Bo reserved special
praise for Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize
winner, whose “moral courage,” he said, had defeated “one of the
most arrogant armies in the world.

He said the periods she spent
under house arrest — 15 of 21 years — were episodes of “redemptive
suffering” that “melted decades of oppression.”

“A new democracy has been
born in this nation,” said Cardinal Bo. “Myanmar is proud today that
its Easter moment came in the most peaceful manner.

“Here was a woman whose belief
in peace and nonviolence stands in stark contrast to the violent conflicts in
many parts of the world,” he said. “It is a great inspiration that
peace is possible and moral power still can overcome tremendous suffering.”

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