Myanmar cardinal urges prayer for coup leaders

ROME – Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon urged citizens Sunday to hold onto hope as fighting in the country escalates, telling them to pray for the leaders of the nation’s violent coup and insisting that hatred will never lead to a solution.

Pointing to the day’s Gospel reading in which Jesus calms a storm threatening to capsize a boat in which he and his disciples were traveling, Bo said Jesus’s assurance to have faith is a consolation “to the more than 120,000 people who were displaced in the conflict zones of Mindat and Loikaw, and those who were wounded inside the churches.”

“Without food and medicine, with fear and anxiety, in rain and cold, these people were tossed like the boat we see in the Gospel today,” he said, noting that like Jesus’s disciples in the storm, many in Myanmar are asking God the same question, “Lord, does it not concern you that we perish?”

“Every broken bone, every bruised heart asks this question,” Bo said, adding, “In the muted voices of hundreds who were mercilessly killed in brutal violence and in the silent tears of thousands incarcerated in the inhuman jails, the question rises every minute: Lord does it not concern that we perish?”

On Friday the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on member states to “prevent the influx of weapons” into Myanmar. The resolution was approved with 119 votes in favor and one against; 36 countries, including China and Russia – Yangon’s two largest arms suppliers – abstained.

Among other things, the resolution condemns the Feb. 1 coup, in which the country’s military overthrew democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected officials, and it calls for the release of political prisoners and a halt to the violence.

According to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, nearly 900 people have been killed since the beginning of the coup and some 5,000 protesters have been arrested.

Speaking to the UN general assembly after Friday’s vote, U.N. special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener said “The risk of a large-scale civil war is real,” in Myanmar, and “Time is of the essence. The opportunity to reverse the military takeover is narrowing.”

As fighting between the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military armed forces, and opposition groups increases in the country’s eastern and western states, thousands have been displaced, having abandoned their villages are to take refuge in the surrounding forest and mountains.

Aung San Suu Kyi is currently on trial facing charges for several crimes including corruption, disclosure of state secrets, and breaking coronavirus lockdown rules. To mark Aung San Suu Kyi’s 76th birthday June 19, citizens of Yangon wore a flower in their hair as a tribute and sign of support, as the democratic leader is often pictured with a flower behind her ear.

In his homily, Bo said there is no easy answer to the question of whether God has abandoned his people, and that as violence continues and the number of dead and displaced rise, it’s tempting to think that God is sleeping as the people of Myanmar perish.

Yet Jesus’s challenge to his disciples in the moment of the storm, he said, is to have faith.

Faith, Bo said, “is not meant only for happy times. Faith is the star that shines in the darkest nights. Faith is unseen but felt, faith is strength when we feel we have none, faith is hope when we seem all was lost. Faith is feeling the presence of God in our utmost feeling of abandonment.”

Every instance of suffering leads to something new, he said, noting how the disciples and early Christians were tortured, imprisoned, and killed, with many early martyrs being tossed to the lions in the Colosseum as a warning to others to steer clear of the Christian faith.

“Amidst all their suffering their experience was: God was present in them and worked through them. Amidst all their suffering they felt there was something new. Amidst the bloodshed and tears, there is light in the horizon,” he said, adding, that the “long night of silent tears always ends in a dawn. It may be long, but it is dawn.”

In addition to having faith, another piece of advice Jesus gave to his disciples, Bo said, was to “Love your enemies; and pray for those who persecute you.”

This must also be the case in Myanmar, he said, noting that the country, like the boat in the Gospel, is currently in the midst of a terrible storm.

“It is undergoing the storm of hatred. Hatred is the wild storm that is rocking the boat,” he said, cautioning believers that unless the act quickly, “Myanmar as a nation will wound itself and sink in the marauding waves of hatred.”

“Let us seek a path different from those who believe the power of the guns. Give humanity a chance, humanize those who dehumanize you. That is the ultimate victory,” he said, and urged faithful to also pray for the Tatmadaw.

While this will be a difficult and controversial task for some, Bo said that “as a Christian and as someone who has seen the violent history of this nation from my birth and the futility of six decades of war, I say: let us pray for the army and its leaders.”

“They really need prayers,” he said. “Their hearts should melt and understand, the violence is not against any enemy nation, it is against our own people.”

All citizens of Myanmar, and not just Christians, should pray for this intention, he said, saying “All of us need to redeem humanity through prayer. Prayer needs to melt hearts and we need to come together as brothers.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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