By Courtney Mares
On the one year anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has said that his people have endured an “extended Way of the Cross.”
Myanmar’s first cardinal described the situation in his country as a time of “spiraling chaos, confusion, conflict, and human agony.”
“The whole of Myanmar is a war zone,” Bo said in an audio message published by Vatican News on Jan. 31.
“As bishops, we continue our accompaniment of our people, advocating for humanitarian access, and urging all parties toward a journey of peace and reconciliation,” he said.
February 1 marks one year since armed forces seized power in Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country also known as Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s elected civilian leader, was detained along with the country’s President Win Myint after the military coup.
Soldiers attempted to repress the mass protests that followed in the wake of the coup.
According to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, almost 1,500 people have been killed in the military crackdown and nearly 12,000 arrested as of Jan. 28.
Bo said that a huge number of people have been displaced by the violence, notably in Christian areas.
Although Catholics only constitute around 1% of the population, which is majority Buddhist, they have been caught up in the violence.
“Places of worship have been violated. Deaths occurred inside the churches. The bishops’ conference condemned the church bombings and also the inhuman killing,” he said.
A video of a religious sister kneeling before police, begging them not to attack protesters in northern Myanmar, went viral in March 2021.
“Myanmar people are undergoing an existential crisis — a deep crisis marked by a visceral threat to life and livelihood,” Bo said.
“Enough is enough. Time for healing. The people in the country cannot bear any more pain and violence.”
The cardinal said that he is “prayerfully hopeful” that stakeholders can follow the path of peace and reconciliation.
Bo underlined that the Church has consistently urged dialogue, the release of the detained, greater freedom of expression, and respect for basic human rights.
In addition to repression, Myanmar’s 54 million population has faced steep rises in food and fuel prices. The United Nations World Food Programme reported last year that up to 3.4 million more people will go hungry as a result of pre-existing poverty, the coronavirus crisis, and political instability.
“At this moment, what would be my message to the people of Myanmar? We feel your pain, your suffering, your starvation. We understand your disappointment. We understand your resistance, but to some who believe only in violent resistance, we say there are other means,” Bo said.
“To Christians, you have suffered heavily in this time. The church accompanies you in your way of the cross. But as a church and as Christians, we follow the direction of Pope Francis. Let us become the wounded healer, be an instrument of peace, and let us light the candle of hope amidst frustrating darkness.”
Since he was appointed archbishop of Yangon, the former capital city, in 2003, Bo has emerged as a leading advocate for democracy in the country.
Pope Francis made Bo the first cardinal in the history of Myanmar in 2015.
In the past year since the coup, the 73-year-old cardinal has repeatedly urged soldiers to stop attacking the country’s citizens and appealed for peace and dialogue.
Bo said that he fears that “Myanmar seems to have disappeared from the radar of the world.”
“Our agony continues,” the cardinal said.
“Remember Myanmar and help in the struggle for peacemaking. Avoid providing more weapons. Advocate for greater humanitarian access. Peace is possible. Peace is the only way.”
(SOURCE: CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY)