Myanmar cardinal tells military to relinquish power to civilians

Cardinal Bo celebrating Mass on the feast of Assumption


By C.M. Paul

Yangon, August 15, 2019: Ahead of the upcoming general elections Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has launched a heart wrenching appeal to the people and its military leaders on the feast of Mother Mary’s Assumption, August 15.

Assumption symbolic of freedom celebrates the liberation of the Mother of Jesus from the shackles of human bondages.

Speaking to Matters India, the Myanmar Catholic Bishops Conference Office of Social Communications Secretary Fr Mariano Soe Naing says today’s homily is part one of the cardinal’s reflections entitled: Reflections From The Periphery: ‘God’s love for the people and Nations of Asia’ sharing the his introduction and his thoughts on the Rights and Duties of all People. Second part addresses the Quest for Peace, while third part, will speak on the legitimate role of Defense for a Nation, and fourth part, the Importance of Religious Freedom.”

Myanmar Catholic Bishops Conference consists of 19 Bishops from 16 dioceses.

Speaking at the solemn Eucharistic celebration at Yangon’s iconic St Mary’s Cathedral, Myanmar’s first cardinal said, “My mission has always been clear – to see people in Myanmar freed to love and serve others. To achieve this, we need to rid ourselves and the nation of evil forces: sin, addiction, injustice, discrimination and unjust military force. In order to enjoy full freedom, there must be truth in everything.”

Listing some of the challenges that continues to impact Myanmar, the soft spoken cardinal said, “Over a million people from Myanmar are refugees outside their country, the fourth-largest refugee population in the world, and more than a million are internally displaced within Myanmar. Over 40 percent of the population live in poverty.”

Myanmar is 26th most populous country in the world, and 40th largest country by area, with a 2019 estimated population of 54.05 million people ruled by military dictatorship since 1964.
Continuing the feast day homily, the cardinal who is also president of Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) explained his life’s guiding principle in the motto he took as a priest and continues to live by as cardinal, “Omnia possum in Eo” – “I can do all things in Him” (Philippians 4: 13).

Laying bare the state of the nation and the need for honest people to act, the cardinal said, “In the Church’s ‘just war’ theory, the use of force in self-defense is legitimate, provided it is proportionate and a last resort. The Church also teaches that there is also “the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression.”

The cardinal further explained, “Too often – including in Myanmar – civilians become the targets of war, resulting in their displacement and sometimes brutal massacre.”

As the Church teaches, “in such tragic circumstances, humanitarian aid must reach the civilian population and must never be used to influence those receiving it; the good of the human person must take precedence over the interests of the parties to the conflict.”

The 71-year old Salesian cardinal insisted, “This specific message needs to be heard in Myanmar. There are areas of the country, particularly in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, where people in desperate need are cut off from assistance, where humanitarian access is denied. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflicts between different groups in our country, no one should be denied the most basic of rights, the right to food, shelter, medicine and education.”

“If Myanmar is to secure peace, democracy and prosperity,” the cardinal told faithful gathered in the cathedral, “we must work for a transition in which the military comes to understand its role as defending the country, not ruling it.”

Recalling the mind of founding father of Myanmar the cardinal said, “Aung San always believed that the army he founded was there to serve the people.”

The cardinal quoted his daughter, the current Prime Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi saying her father wanted the army to “abide by principles of justice and honor … He never intended the army to meddle in government.”

Striking the right balance, Aung San sought a federal system for Myanmar, explaining the vision of the Panglong Agreement in a speech in the Jubilee Hall in 1947, saying: “In my opinion it will not be feasible to set up a unitary state. We must set up a Union with properly regulated provisions to safeguard the rights of the national minorities.”

Invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary the cardinal prayed, “Let justice and peace flow like Irrawaddy River. Let true political and economic federalism, bring trust among communities. Let there be transparency. When the government ensures fairness through true participatory democracy, our wounds will heal, conflicts will become history. All armies can make their guns silent. Wage a war for peace. One army is enough and that army needs to be an army of justice and peace.”

The cardinal insisted, “No army in a civilized society can be above the law; no soldier in a humane society can be allowed to commit crimes with impunity. If soldiers are to be respected, they must take their place in the barracks and not in the legislature, serving the country under the authority of an elected civilian government.”

In concluding, the cardinal did not hesitate to remind the army leaders of their role saying, “In democratic societies political leaders rely heavily on the wisdom of their Chiefs of Staff, and such respect is vitally important, but it can only be achieved if it is well-established that the Chiefs of Staff serve under the authority of elected civilian leaders and do not threaten them. Justice and the rule of law must be enhanced. For ultimately, all men and women are accountable before God, and God is a God of justice, a God who abhors injustice.”

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