New Myanmar of peace, prosperity possible: Cardinal Bo
By Matters India Reporter
Yangon: Cardinal Charles Bo, head of the Catholic Church in Myanmar has one mantra: “Let us reconcile, let us make this nation a great nation.” As the Buddhist-majority nation in Southeast Asia with more than 100 ethnic groups prepares for the visit of Pope Francis, the Salesian prelate and Archbishop of Yangon spoke to Matters India about current problems facing the country. The Pope will visit Myanmar during November 27-December 2.
MATTERS INDIA: Could you say briefly about Myanmar and Christians?
CARDINAL CHARLES BO: We are proud to be citizens of a great nation—Myanmar. We are proud to be a nation which is blessed abundantly above the ground and below the ground with so many resources. Indeed, this nation is a golden land. It is our dream of a golden land for all is a reality through peace. Peace is the only way, peace is possible. The dividends of peace will benefit every youth, every child. A new Myanmar of peace and prosperity is possible.
This nation celebrates its vibrancy and diversity. We are a nation of seven major tribes and 135 tribes. Each of us decorates our nation to be a garden of grandeur with different colorful flowers. Each one of us is unique and important. We see dignity in diversity.
Myanmar is at the crossroads of history. We are led by the great leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK). She has sacrificed her life for the good of the nation. With thousands of others, she ensured that our pilgrimage of democracy resulted in more rights and our nation is accepted as one of the future success stories.
This Myanmar of our dreams is going through the throes of a new birth. Myanmar has to undergo peace-building, state building, and nation building. The Myanmar citizens affirm the three tasks in the company of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
This is a young nation, with 40 percent below the age of 30. The human asset is our greatest asset. We are proving to the world that given an opportunity our youngsters can match the intelligence and skills of any country. Sixty years ago this nation was the richest and the most educated nation.
In recent months, Myanmar is in world’s attention for Rohingya Muslims crisis. What are your views on the issue and its wider implications for its people?.
Yes, recent events in the country involving Rakhine people have brought lots of attention to this nation, especially, the friends of Myanmar whose support for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had helped this nation are disappointed with the events. Everybody in the world wants to advise Myanmar. At this moment we need to stand together. We need to see good in one another. We need to tell the world that we have the moral courage and energy to solve our problems. We need to tell the world, a new Myanmar of generosity and hope is emerging and the world does need not to worry about this nation. We need to tell the world that we have sought non-violent solutions to our struggle for democracy and we are a nation soaked in the great teachings of Buddha who taught compassion to everyone.
We affirm the leadership of DASSK and to say that she continues to be the hope of millions of our people who need human development, justice, and reconciliation. She has sacrificed so much for this nation and democracy. She has sailed over personal tragedies to stand firm to bring peace and prosperity to this nation. This nation is indebted to the sacrifices of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of others and for where we are today. This nation’s doors were opened by them.
How do you rate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?
She never went after any awards. Many institutions went after her to give the awards. The only award she sought was the award of her election and the people of Myanmar overwhelmingly voted her as their leader. No one can take that award from her. Neither can they take away the love and affection bestowed by the people of Myanmar. In her fragile hands, she holds the dreams of millions. She has achieved a lot in the short time. She has brought all the warring groups under one roof through Pang Long conferences. This is not a small achievement. When she took over the government, matters were not easy. But she has seen to that peace is her priority. Even with Rakhine state she started the verification process, she appointed Kofi Annan commission, and she has appointed an implementation committee to execute the recommendations. She cannot turn history in 18 months of rule. The world needs understanding and support to her government.
What is the future of the country?
Under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi we are on a journey to grab that fast glory. No one can stop Myanmar’s rise to glory. We are the future. All the rich countries in the world do not have a young population as we have. We will be a strong nation in ten years despite all our enemies wish to see this country go back to the days of suffering. There is a new dawn of hope and a new eagerness to build this nation.
We are on a long march. While we should not be derailed by criticisms of the international community and INGOs, we need to understand their anxieties. We are now a proud nation in the international community.
There is a campaign going on outside the country that Myanmar people are not compassionate. I wish to tell the world compassion is the common religion of the Myanmar people. Come and see after every natural disaster. Our people give everything for the suffering people. When they do not have money they will rush to give their labor. Our country practices compassion when people suffer.
Religions are not the cause of conflict. Religions are instruments for peace. This country is a very spiritual country there are 500,000 monks and 70,000 nuns. Christians also have more than 2,800 priests and nuns. Our people are deeply religious. Peace is their prayer every day.
We need peace in all dimensions. Pope Francis who will be coming to this land always talked of Peace that comes through justice. If we want peace we must work for justice. Pope Francis talks often of two kinds of justice: Economic Justice and Environmental Justice. Last week I was in Taipei about the conference on human rights and seas.
It is known that Myanmar is a poor country. How is it copping up with the reality?
Yes, we have millions of poor Myanmar youth outside the country in conditions that are like slavery. Two years ago there was a discovery of sea slaves on an island. All those sea slaves are from Myanmar. Modern-day slavery cheats our poor. Most of these people are Burmese. They are innocent. Poverty traps them and they are taken by human traffickers to the nearby countries. We must ask this question: Why in a country blessed with gold and in a country where billions of dollars are earned in Jade sale every year, at least 2 million of our youth are working in nearby countries in slave-like conditions. There is no economic peace because there is no economic justice. Over 40 percent of our people are poor and in Rakhine 70 percent of the people are poor. Conflict does not benefit our poor, it makes them poorer.
Environmental justice is required for peace. Most conflicts with the ethnic group are based on resource sharing. Forests and natural resources belong to the people of this country. If we manage natural resources well we can bring back all our migrant workers. We can become the richest country in the region. We were the riches in the 1950s and 60s. Once we destroy nature conflict came in. By bringing peace, we all can develop. By staying in a war we become poorer and poorer.
What are the country’s current aspirations?
Today we pray for economic justice and environmental justice. Buddhism speaks of sharing, protecting nature and living a peaceful life. I come from a Christian tradition. Christian tradition comes from Jewish tradition. The greeting in these religions is Shalom that is peace. Islam has salam that is also peace. No religion speaks of hatred. Those who speak of hatred in the name of religion are the real enemies of that religion. Not religion needs the protection of merchants of hatred.
Prayer is on our lips and love in our heart. Thousands come every year from far to see our people to admire at their grace and peace with which they live in our cities and villages. Let that image continue to grow.
St Francis of Assisi was a great saint who lived poor and sang about the glory of nature. He was also a great lover of peace. He has a great prayer for peace: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace….”
We have a great desire for peace but we are to be agents of peace! Like St. Francis Assisi we pray that we may be instruments of peace. This is our way to blessedness because as Our Lord Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers!”
But, the country has faced many problems often related to religions. What do you say?
The opposite of peace is not war. War is the consequence of the hatred. Hatred destroys our serenity of mind, heart, and soul. People of Myanmar are committed to sowing love; the love that will bring joy and serenity to each one of us and to this nation. Hatred can be overcome only by love. Hatred and hate speech has no place in any religion. Christianity preached love for the enemies. Lord Buddha urged his disciples to do no harm through even violent thoughts.
I invite all people of Myanmar to heal our Nation! Our Nation suffers from deep wounds of divisions and hatred. We can no longer remain lingering on these wounds but we must go ahead. Forgiveness is the mean of healing. Let us forgive ourselves and forgive one another. Forgiveness is the decision of the will. Let us forgive ourselves in the first place. We see a willingness to forgive on the part of those suffered much in past 60 years. I beg the perpetrators to trust in the forgiveness!
Let us not give a chance to doubt and despair! Let our goal of peace not disappear from our sight! Let us keep our faith! Let our hope be alive! Let us bring the light of joy to those who live darkness of fear, hatred, and sadness.
As proud citizens of Myanmar, we know our strengths, we know our faults. Let us, as a family, face the challenges. Let us reconcile, let us make this nation a great nation. That, my brothers and sisters, is possible. Long live the great nation of Myanmar! Long live all the people of Myanmar. Peace is possible, peace is the only way.