The head of the Catholic Church in Myanmar has highlighted the importance of multiculturalism, warning that a refusal to accept differences has led to “ethnic conflict” in the South East Asian country.
Recalling the words of the Pope on his recent trip to Myanmar, the cardinal entreated Catholics to choose reconciliation rather than revenge, and to promote religious tolerance.
Although the prelate didn’t mention the Rohingya by name, his comments will be read in the light of recent attacks on this ethnic group. Since August 2017 more than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in response to government attacks on their villages in the northern part of the country.
The outspoken Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon Archdiocese used his Easter message to call for peace, drawing on the analogy of the tomb of Jesus to describe the political and economic context in Myanmar, a country mired by civil war for over 60 years.
Myanmar is made up of several different ethnic groups, most of which practice Buddhism but some of whom are Christian or Muslim. The minority religions have experienced intense discrimination, and in some cases persecution, over many decades of military dictatorship.
“There are many stones of despair [that] need to be removed from the graves of hopelessness in our hearts and in our nation”, said the cardinal, in the message released five days before Easter Sunday.
These “stones” include “hatred”, “injustice” and “conflict”, and have led to millions “buried in the grave of economic injustice in this country” and thousands “buried as ‘modern slaves’ in unsafe migration to nearby countries”, he said.
His message, entitled ‘From death to life – building a nation of hope and peace’, concluded with a call to peace, asking Christians to “join the march to roll out the stones that have entrapped people in man made graves”.
“Our country needs huge amounts of hope”, he said, “peace is the only way forward”.
Myanmar took steps towards democracy in 2015, when then-opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in parliament, but NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has come under criticism recently from the international community for her seeming inability to prevent human rights abuses against the Rohingya.
Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader for watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide, welcomed the cardinal’s “powerful and inspiring message”. “He is absolutely right to focus on countering hatred, tackling injustice and promoting genuine peace,” he said, adding that Bo is “one of very few national leaders in Burma to continue to speak out for the rights of everyone, including ethnic and religious minorities”.
PICTURE: Rohingya children waiting to receive aid at a food distribution centre in Bangladesh. Image/AAP