Myanmar cardinal stresses role of religion for peace

Cardinal Bo (second from left)

Matters India reporter

New York, July 17, 2019: Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar has underscored the role of religion and its leaders in working for sustainable peace and development.

The “recognition that religious leaders are influential in peace making is a reality the world leaders and the civil society actors need to take into account,” asserted the cardinal in his keynote speaker at ‘Together for the Goals – Side Event to the High Level Political Forum 2019’ held at United Nations Church Centre, New York on July 16.

The president of Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences noted a tendency to implicate religions and their leaders to direct or indirect cause of conflicts.

“This is sad because in many parts of the world, especially in Asia and Africa, the religious leaders play a major role as opinion makers, and community leaders who could influence the faithful towards peace, not conflict,” claimed the Salesian cardinal.

In his opening remarks he said, “As an active participant in the religions for peace and as the main organizer of the national level conference on peace, I am glad to share my experience in peace making and peace building.”

The cardinal’s presentation focused on “Together for the Goals – Religious Actors’ Role on Sustaining Peace – SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.”

Sustainable Development Goal 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions – is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015.

The 71-year-old cardinal said the religious leaders in Myanmar plays a crucial role in fostering peace in Myanmar. The Southeastern nation has some 500,000 Buddhist monks and 70,000 Buddhist nuns. The Catholic Church has 800 priests and some 2,200 nuns who live in remote villages, influencing the people’s life and faith in 16 dioceses.

“Their role in maintaining peace through imparting values like compassion is an extraordinary contribution to the peace of Myanmar,” he added.

“The shopping list of human hatred is nauseating,” said the cardinal giving raw data of his country where “nearly a million people are internally displaced, another million fled as refugees, and nearly 4 million forced into distress migration due to 22 internal conflicts which continue to simmer.”

The cardinal moaned, “The country once the richest in the whole of South East Asia today remains one of the poorest in the world despite all the great resources making us the proverbial blind beggar begging with the golden plate.”

“Amidst these darkness of despair,” the cardinal vouched saying, “we as religious leaders wish to light a candle of hope with a single mantra: Peace is possible, peace is the only way.”

“Sadly this role is not taken into account even by the great peace moves like Panglong Peace Conference where the presence of the religious leaders is minimal or at most as observers,” the cardinal lamented.

Andreas Dybkjær-Andersson of Programme and Advocacy Advisor for Religion, Peace and Conflict in Myanmar, said the study on Myanmar is of particular interest to PaRD (International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development) members in the Sustaining Peace Work Stream, since it has been identified as a national/regional focus for future cooperation.

Some PaRD members cooperate with Karuna Mission Social Solidarity, and the Justice and Peace Commission of Myanmar.

PaRD brings together governmental and intergovernmental entities with diverse civil society organizations (CSOs) and faith-based organizations (FBOs), to engage the social capital and capacities vested in diverse faith communities for sustainable development and humanitarian assistance in the spirit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saaraswati, secretary general of Global Interfaith WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Alliance) and member of PaRD Steering Group, welcomed participants to the 2 hour event on the topic ‘Religious Actors’ Role in Sustainable Development’.

The WASH Alliance International is a multi-national consortium of more than 100 partners worldwide which works with local NGOs, governments and businesses to make sure everybody on this planet has sustainable access to water and sanitation.

Representative to the United Nations for the World Council of Churches Rev. Doug Leonard moderated the proceedings.

The cardinal suggested 3 related objectives for this side event: first, to highlight and illustrate the role of religious and traditional actors in achieving the 2030 Agenda; and the importance of working across sectors with religious and traditional actors, with a particular focus on the achievement of SDG 16.

Second, to launch a new “scoping study” on the role of religious and traditional actors related to peace and conflict, the Sustaining Peace agenda, and SDG 16; and third, to discuss evidence-based recommendations to guide engagement and partnerships between local faith actors and international actors.

In conclusion, the cardinal proposed various levels of intervention: First, International Initiatives for peace through religions for peace; Second, national level peace conferences and third, influence with non-state actors. Fourth, People to people dialogue, and Fifth addressing root causes of the conflict.”

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