The below message is the Christmas Message of Cardinal Charles Bo on 25 December 2021.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Myanmar
Greetings of the Holy Season, the Season of Hope, the season of Healing.
The Gospel of today, speaks of the beautiful message of God’s incarnate love, expressed through a powerless Jesus, born to a poor family. On that night of hope, Mary held her Son in her hands as the Angels sang the song of hope, peace and reconciliation.
“ Glory to God in the highest; peace to all men and women of good will.”
We as a nation urgently need that message today. Never did we have such a great struggle to preach a message of hope and peace of the Christmas as we confront today. Yet never is the greater need for hope of peace and justice than in this 2021 Christmas. With prayer in our lips and hope in our hearts, we gather today to contemplate peace and reconciliation in this nation.
My heart goes to those who are away from their homes, those who are in the jungle camps, in places of violence and darkness, in starvation and fear and anxiety. My prayers are that this country can hear the voice of angels for peace and reconcile and we can all can come back home.
How do we redeem the message of the Peace on Earth on this land which has seen so much suffering? The Bible calls Jesus the Prince of Peace. How do we welcome this prince of peace in this land? How do we convert the powerlessness of the Manger into the power of love and reconciliation? We face great challenges but, as the Pope says. We can turn our challenges into opportunities.
Can we convert our suffering into redemptive suffering of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation?
The first Christmas speaks of a simple family, Joseph, the carpenter, and his pregnant wife. The situation forced them to relocate, be displaced and ultimately become refugees. We relive that simple family’s powerlessness, its flight in the merciless winter to Bethlehem, their struggle to find a place for the birth of the child. In the last two years, we have seen so much suffering, so much of human brokenness. Human nature is to retaliate, seek vengeance. Palestine at the time of Jesus birth was a theater of human suffering. Like that Palestine, today thousands have become victims of man made disasters and wounds.
We need healing.
This Christmas, we need to start the process of reconciliation in this nation. I appeal to all, that this nation can survive only through the message of the first Christmas. To those who are powerful I appeal, Christ’s show of power is in service, the power of reconciliation. You can never win with arms.
The Magi informed Herod, “ We have come to worship the King of Jews.” While Herod thought of a competitor to his throne, Jesus was a different kind of king, a king who did not believe in the power of weapons, but the power of reconciliation. In today’s first reading, Isaiah talks of this child as a king, a king whose only mandate is: Prince of Peace who brings Justice to all.
A child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this (Is 9:5-6).
Once again, I reiterate to friends who could be offended by the Christmas message of love, peace, and reconciliation, these are not qualities of the cowards. Let me quote Gandhi again :
A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave. Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct.
Seeking vengeance and shedding blood started already in the first family, Cain Vs Abel. Killing seems to come naturally in human beings in history. Every century saw millions dying in vengeance and war. Can this nation afford to take that path once again?
Every age saw prophets rising to cleanse humanity of this aberration. Fittingly today St Paul proclaims in second reading in the letter to Titus that message of Christ coming to deliver us from all lawlessness and turn all into agents of good.
The appearance of the glory of our great God and saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good ( Titus 2:13-14).
Yes, in this Christmas Apostle Paul calls us to ‘do good by healing.’ Healing takes courage. Healing makes us human. That is the message of incarnation. That is the message of Christmas. Human beings seek freedom. No one on earth can subdued that. Because human dignity and freedom belong to God and his Kingdom. The struggle today is to affirm that we belong to God who has endowed each human being with immense dignity. No man, however powerful, can deny that grace. How to achieve that without hatred but with peaceful means is the challenge we face today.
When a nation and people think weapons are the ultimate arbiters of our destiny, the message of the First Christmas dries out in the sterile deserts of despair. Hope as virtue has an audacity, unmatched by any force. This Christmas we are called to celebrate that audacity of hope – that came through a poor Jewish family on that grateful Christmas night of God’s intervention in history.
We live the first Christmas. Amidst our suffering, despair, we realize how close we are to the family of Jesus and the first Christmas: pushed to the margins, impoverished, living in anxiety, fleeing homes, becoming internally displaced people and refugees. We see a Mary in the women who bore children away from homes, we see Joseph who flees danger to life, we see the manger in the plight of thousands in need of shelter.
Yet we need to speak more of peace, as the Angels sang that night. Over that suffocating gloom, the Angels sang the song of hope. Stars shone over that manager. While the entitled rich and the elite of Jerusalem waited in their guarded palace for the arrival of Messiah, it was the impoverished, illiterate shepherds who were given a message that has a contemporary resonance
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
What this wounded nation needs healing, not more arms and weapons. This country has more men with arms and weapons than doctors. This a repugnant aberration. Let us become a nation of healers – for Jesus is the eternal healer.
The angels, the Bible says, sang over the manger, over the child born in a cattle shed, to a family of internally displaced people. The Angels did not sing over the palaces, never sang over the palace of the rich and the powerful. The Bible is candid: They sang over the manger. That power of empty hands of manger started an epoch of peace. Simple people : Let us take that first step this Christmas. Let us seek peaceful solutions. This is the appeal to all in this country. Let the guns fall silent. Let the song of peace fill our hearts.
In many ways, the Christmas of 2021 takes us closer to that humble manger of Bethlehem. The commercial Christmas is mercilessly gone. The malls, the manufactured stars, and the cartoonish Santa Claus are replaced by the struggle of thousands for safety and security. The same struggle Joseph and Mary underwent. It is to all of us the infant Jesus says: Peace on Earth.
The present pain of millions in this country is not denied. The message of Incarnation is “God who emptied himself and took the form of a slave.” And that God tells us from the manger : I know your pain, your anxious fleeing, your fear of death, your silent cries over the child born in the jungles. I know your pain, my dear people.
God says “I” am not an empty word, I became flesh and dwelt among you. Once you sought me in the churches and celebrations. Now I am the God who emptied myself and took the form of a frightened slave. I am Emmanuel, the God in you. I am in every drop of blood spilt in violence, I am in every silent tear of mothers, I am in the starving child’s cry and I am in the silent burial of the innocent in the unknown graves. Know that I am Emmanuel (Is 7:14; Mt : 1:23). I loved you so much, that I have not spared even my son of all the suffering you undergo (Jn 3:16).
Dear brothers and Sisters in Myanmar: The first Christmas, despite all the suffering of poor families like Joseph, Mary and Child Jesus, was not only of chaos and anxiety. It was the starting of the journey of hope. We pray that in this Christmas, all the visceral suffering we underwent through the multidimensional crisis, do not throw us into the bottomless pit of despair and vengeance.
If that happens the enemy has won, the devil has destroyed the Christmas spirit. Because our Emmanuel dirtied his feet in the mud of humanity and bloodied his hands on the supreme sacrifice of the Cross, and proved evil has an expiry date and the good will triumph, let us turn our steps towards hope.
A new Jesus is waiting to be born in each one of us. A Jesus who never compromises with the evil yet can preach peace, a Jesus who took on the powers to be and yet showed power comes from service, a Jesus who castigated hypocrites and yet preached forgiveness. Compassion was the common religion of this country, and Christ preached compassion as the way, the truth and the light. Let a new Christmas of hope and joy and justice be born in this land.
A new world is possible. We can live in peace. Today’s Gospel speaks of thousands of our countrymen and women, victims of violence, especially women. In the poignant words, Luke speaks of the conditions of fear in the first Christmas.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
And yet the song of hope that beckons us :
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a saviour has been born (Luke 2:6-14).
Yes, this is our hope in this country, and I strongly believe those songs will be sung in this land sooner. Let the message of the manger win over all the darkness. Let the stars of peace shine over this land of great promise.
Prayerful Wishes on this Christmas Day.
Cardinal Charles Bo
Archbishop of Yangon
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.”
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Yangon, (GNJ) – Cardinal Charles Bo, the president of Federation Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) and Archbishop of Yangon, led a ONE day an evaluation seminar on the past (50) years’ services of FABC for the people of Asia and the universal Church on 29th May 2021 at his residence in Yangon, Myanmar.
In his opening remark, His Eminence explained the audience that FABC was founded by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and it has already entered the Golden Jubilee (50 Years) in 2020 in which it planed to celebrate the Jubilee in Bangkok with the theme of Journeying together as peoples of Asia, “…..and they went to a different way (Mt. 2:12)”. However, he sadly said that due to the emergence of corona virus (Covid-19) pandemic, the celebration was postponed and he hopes the celebration can be done before his second-term presidency of FABC before 2024.
The evaluation seminar was attended by (58) participants of (5) religious priests, (8) lay women, (2) layman and (43) nuns from 12 numbers of different Religious congregations which base in Yangon.
Out of (57) participants, about (40) participants reported that they do not even hear and know the meaning of FABC. A nun from Charity Congregation said that she just came to know FABC only when she joined this seminar and she wished if Myanmar Catholic Bishops and FABC should promote the nature and services of FABC Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences :: WELCOME! (fabc.org) in Myanmar Catholic members.
We made (7) groups of about 9 to 10 members from the participants. And His Eminence gave us the same (5) questions to be answered by each group of the participants and we submitted our respective group answers on the questions to Cardinal Charles Bo.
A nun from St. Joseph Congregation advised FABC that it should translate all documents of FABC teachings into Myanmar language. Another nun from Sisters of Charity suggested FABC that it should uplift a declining cultures of indigenous people in Asia. A nun from St. Francis Xavier suggested FABC that it should train well priests who will be missionaries to other parts of the world before they are sent out.
My surprise was that there was no diocesan priest from any diocese to this evaluation seminar. All participants were religious (priests and nuns), laywomen and laymen in this seminar.
The (5) questions are as follows;
The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) is a voluntary association of episcopal conferences (18) countries numbering more than 1000 Catholic Bishops in South, Southeast, East and Central Asia, established with approval of the Holy See. Its purpose is to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of the Church and society in Asia, and to promote and defend whatever is for the greater good.
By Joseph Win Hlaing Oo
Let us pray for such healing, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.