By Jamie O’Brien
Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo has this week said the Catholic Church plays a significant role on peacebuilding in Myanmar.
At the invitation of Catholic Mission Perth Office, Cardinal Bo spoke about several pressing issues in Myanmar in an exclusive interview with The eRecord on Monday 18 June in Perth.
“Not only myself, but the whole Church, and all of the Bishops Conference [in Myanmar], are focusing on the work on peace,” Cardinal Bo said.
“The Church is very much involved in the sense that we could negotiate with all the groups.
“In fact, many would say they don’t have a voice [and] the Catholic Church is the voice for those people; for the voiceless, especially in building peace.”
Cardinal Bo also said Pope Francis’s visit last November had a profound impact on the people of Myanmar.
“After his visit, the Catholic Church became prominent. We have more facility to work for peace,” Cardinal Bo said.
“The Church and the Bishop have much direct contact with the military general, and we also have the facility of contacts with different religious leaders; the Buddhist community, the Muslim as well.”
Cardinal Bo also said Pope Francis managed to speak to “all types of groups of people including the military, government officials, young people, religious leaders, Buddhist monks and the Catholic Church”.
Pope Francis encouraged Catholic Bishops in Myanmar to heal the wounds of the nation, whether invisible or visible.
The Pope left a message of peace and love for the people of Myanmar, not only to the Catholic community but to every group the Pope met during his visit.
Cardinal Bo said when the Pope left Myanmar, he gave the country and its people an important task to focus on unity in diversity.
“Pope Francis left that message with us and of course for that to bear fruit, all people have to work hard for peace,” Cardinal Bo said.
Cardinal Bo told The eRecord Myanmar has been facing one of the most protracted situations of civil war globally since the country became independent in 1948.
He emphasised Myanmar’s need for peace and education to put a stop to the civil war and give its people a chance to grow.
“Peace is the basic need, and without peace, any other development is difficult.
“So peace first, and then education and civil development can take place.
“I see that peace is possible and for Myanmar, peace will be the only way,” he said.
He also explained the primary target of the Church in Myanmar is education and that healing the nation through education is essential.
“Many of them [the people of Myanmar] for lack of education, try to go as migrant workers to nearby countries but end up as slaves. Some of our boys and girls have been subjected to human trafficking as well,” Cardinal Bo said.
Cardinal Bo said he would be very grateful to the Church in Australia for any help it provides to the people of Myanmar in gaining quality education.
Behind Cardinal Bo’s hard work and mission in Myanmar, lies a personal reason.
“I had gone through these years from my childhood especially when I was ordained a priest in 1976,” he said.
“I have lived in the areas where the armed groups were there.
“I have seen, in front of me, all the fights and the killings that took place.”
He added that the people of Myanmar are tired of the ongoing civil war and ready to start building peace.
The building of peace in Myanmar involves two main areas of concern; the Rakhine state where the Muslim minority reside, and the international attention to what has happened in Rakhine.
Cardinal Bo also told The eRecord that there are approximately 600,000 people who have gone to Bangladesh from the Rakhine state.
He said the significant focus of international media about what happened in Rakhine had overlooked other conflict areas in Myanmar, especially Kachin where Christians are also victims.
Cardinal Bo is hoping that religious leaders in the country would ‘animate’ the people and encourage them to pursue peace.
However, instead of preaching for peace, these religious leaders would spread words of hate.
He also said the adverse reaction from the international community on Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence would hurt the people of Myanmar.
In a speech for his visit to Newman College, Melbourne, Cardinal Bo said, “This is the woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, the world has exalted for decades in the name of the human rights.
“Now, in the name of those rights violated in Rakhine, the same world destroys it, especially the media, which do not talk of the geopolitical strategies and the economic interests involved.
“While they blame her silence, as the silence falls before the difficult, complex balance – which is not only political but also existential of Myanmar.”
Cardinal Bo explained that people who blame Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence have the lack of understanding of how delicate the situation is in Myanmar and how limited her power is in Burmese parliament.
He also firmly stated that negative reactions to her would open up the doors to the country’s past.
“Despite her limitation of power she tries to educate the people, including military personnel.
“Her silence is not a mute a one; her silence has much meaning especially in a Burmese way,” Cardinal Bo said.
“Eliminating Aung San Suu Kyi, neglecting Aung San Suu Kyi, rejecting Aung San Suu Kyi means, indirectly, you welcome the military dictatorship in Myanmar again.”
Speaking about Cardinal Bo’s visit, Catholic Mission Perth Director Francis Leong said it reinforces our connection with and commitment to the Universal Mission of the Church as it confronts, challenges and attempts to transform oppression and violence in all its forms and guises.
“We were indeed privileged to hear his message of mercy and hope,” Mr Leong said.
“We were indeed privileged by his invitation for all of us to participate in this healing and transformative process being initiated by the Church in Myanmar through its Catholic education program for the whole country,” he said.
“Cardinal Bo’s invitation is a direct call for collaboration and partnership.
“As the Catholic Mission Director for Perth, I look forward to having this conversation and facilitating the process with anyone interested and inspired to support the important and urgent work of our missionary Church in Myanmar,” Mr Leong said.
To support the work of Catholic Mission in Myanmar and or to donate to their 2018 Appeal, go to www.catholicmission.org.au/Myanmar