“The Pope will come to heal the wounds of the country”
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, the first Burmese cardinal in the history of the Church, spoke about the upcoming papal trip to the country. He stressed that the “Vatican and others need to work toward healing the wounds of our nation, by showing a future that can bring positive results for all communities.”
The Cardinal hopes that the Pope will address the “burning questions” of Rohingya persecution in a meeting scheduled with the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the November trip. He added that “as a Church, we want to affirm the intensity of human suffering” experienced by the Rohingya because “this problem has been there for last 60 years, and most intensely since 1982 when an unjust citizenship law passed.”
“The Holy Father,” he stated “has stood against the winds of criticism and mourned the suffering of Muslims and Rohingyas. With unflinching courage, we need to stand against global Islamophobia. What happens here is a spill-over and to see this tragedy detached from other human tragedies would be a fragmented truth.”
The cardinal also noted that “there is a new energy let loose by the global Islamophobia. The xenophobic regulations in rich countries against Muslims encourage this. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Muslims are not suffering only in Burma.”
Cardinal Bo explained that recent government persecution of the Rohingya was a response to attacks on police stations by Rohingya militant groups. “Yet,” he said, “nothing can justify what happened afterwards.” He stressed that the “Rohingya situation is a great tragedy,” but added that “the country needs healing on various fronts.”
Cardinal Bo commented that “Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world, and Rakhine State is the poorest: 70 percent of its people live in extreme poverty.”
In the end, Myanmar “has so many resources, but these do not go to the poor. The Pope is a great prophet of economic justice and environmental justice. He should raise his voice against these two injustices.”
The Cardinal also defended Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s State Councillor and head of government, saying “Aung San Suu Kyi could have done better, but to stigmatize her as if she did nothing is a far-fetched theory.” A longtime human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, she has been criticized for failing to recognize or stop military atrocities against the Rohingya, and for assigning blame to both sides of the conflict.
Cardinal Bo noted that Aung San Suu Kyi “agreed to implement the recommendations” of the Annan Commission requesting that Burma reviews the 1982 citizenship law that classifies Rohingya as illegal immigrants and clarifies the rights of people who are not granted full citizenship, including the Rohingya. Unfortunately “the very day the Commission report was released, there was a militant attack and the reprisal started.” This, he explained, prevented implementation of recommendations. Bo believes that “by attacking Aung San Suu Kyi, nobody wins. She is still a hope for democracy.”
The Cardinal also emphasized that the Pope needs to “shed light on other unresolved conflict and displacements.” According to the 2016 Report on Religious Freedom by Aid to the Church in Need, minorities are often targeted particularly in the predominantly Christian ethnic states of Karen, Kachin and Shan.
Christians in these states are subjected to forced relocation, attacks on their places of worship, and an ongoing campaign of forced conversion and brainwashing in schools funded by the government. In Chin and Kachin, the Burmese army has forced Christians to remove crosses from the hills and mountain tops, sometimes forcing them to build Buddhist pagodas to replace them. In the state of Chin, a Christian was jailed for the crime of building across. In Kachin at least 66 churches have been destroyed in ongoing ethnic conflicts since 2011.
Anti-Christian persecution has “diminished since 2012, but never ceased.”