By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service
LIVERPOOL, England (CNS) — Myanmar’s first cardinal has thanked the Christians of the West for helping to bring democracy to his country.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said the Catholic Church was “at the forefront” of supporting the people of Myanmar, formerly Burma, during a dictatorship that lasted half a century.
Preaching at a May 22 Mass in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, he declared: “Today, we are free.”
“The world community refused to accept the oppression … and spoke against that,” Cardinal Bo said.
“The church as a community refused to allow the oppression of Christians and others in Burma,” he said. “Every church, including the U.K. church, was at the forefront of supporting us.”
The cardinal told the congregation that Catholics “are united by a special bond of community. It is this sense of community which has helped many Christians around the world to survive hardship and emerge stronger.
“My heart is filled with gratitude to all the Christians, civil society leaders and governments, that the sense of community helped them to think of Burma,” he added. “Your concern has led us to see the light of democracy, and I urge you to continue to accompany us, especially through your prayers.”
Cardinal Bo’s visit to Liverpool was the final stop of a British tour at the invitation of the charities Aid to the Church in Need and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. His visit came six months after the National League for Democracy won a landslide election that ended about 50 years of dictatorship in the Southeast Asian country.
Cardinal Bo told the congregation in Liverpool that the dictatorship was a long “Calvary” for the people of his predominantly Buddhist country.
“We were a crucified nation,” he said. “Propagation of Christianity was banned, new churches could not be built, and personnel had to be sent out of the country for any training. In many places, being Christian was the greatest liability.
“The language and cultural rights of our people were taken away by the one-language, one-race and one-religion policy,” he said.
“Yet God did not abandon our nation. The church was like the mustard seed and, like the biblical example, it grew into a tree,” he said.
In the midst of the oppression, he said, the Catholic Church in Myanmar became a “young and vibrant church.”
“The church grew from just three diocese to 16 dioceses,” Cardinal Bo said. “From 100,000 people, we are over 800,000 faithful, from 160 priests to 800 priests, from 300 religious we are now 2,200 religious and 60 per cent of them are below the age of 40.”
Now, he said, Myanmar sends missionaries to other countries.
Cardinal Bo reserved special praise for Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose “moral courage,” he said, had defeated “one of the most arrogant armies in the world.
He said the periods she spent under house arrest — 15 of 21 years — were episodes of “redemptive suffering” that “melted decades of oppression.”
“A new democracy has been born in this nation,” said Cardinal Bo. “Myanmar is proud today that its Easter moment came in the most peaceful manner.
“Here was a woman whose belief in peace and nonviolence stands in stark contrast to the violent conflicts in many parts of the world,” he said. “It is a great inspiration that peace is possible and moral power still can overcome tremendous suffering.”