Vatican City (Fides Service) – “We are a very close knit community and despite difficulties and trials we praise God, we pray, we evangelise and engage in social and charity work”. This is how Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, described the situation of the Catholic Church in Myanmar. The Archbishop was one of 42 new Archbishops who came to Rome to receive in St Peter’s the pallium as a symbol communion with the Pope on June 29, feast of Saints Peter and Paul. “It was a most important moment in my life as a Bishop. It helped me realise to the full my responsibility as shepherd of the little flock in Yangon” the Archbishop told Fides Service. Bishop of Pathein since 1996, Mgr Charles Maung Bo was appointed by the Pope Archbishop of Yangon on 24 May this year.
The Archbishop described his pastoral plan with a play on words: “I was inspired by the Holy Spirit on the day I was appointed and realised I would receive the pallium, a spiritual cloak or “robe”.
R = reflect, re-create harmony, to stop and then resume the journey with new energy;
O – obey the commands of Gospel, of tradition, obey the will of God
B = build up the community by means of communion among the clergy and the people, build relations with other Christians and other believers.
E = Eucharist keep the Eucharist at the centre of the life of the Church and all pastoral activities.
Archbishop Bo told us that Myanmar has a population of 47 million. There are 600,000 Catholics gathered in 12 dioceses. They are served by 16 bishops, 600 priests, 1,400 religious and 3,000 catechists. “We are a closely united community, from the Bishops to the people. Despite restrictions imposed by the military regime we are free to pray in our churches and to evangelise through our lay catechists prepared with good formation courses. Our catechists travel through the villages visiting remote families. Country people are more easily led to Jesus, whereas in the cities people are less inclined to listen. In Mandalay and Yangon Buddhism is deeply rooted. In fact 90% of Myanmar’s Catholics belong to ethnic minority groups. Vocations flourish. At St Joseph National seminary in Yangon we have more than 80 students preparing for the priesthood and each diocesan seminary has about 100, which amounts to a total of 1,300 seminarians in all.”
The Catholic community is fully engaged in social work. “We have schools, dispensaries, hospitals mainly in remote areas and thanks to the work of religious congregations. We also have religious and laity working in government structures especially in poor areas where help is most needed. The government welcomes our assistance. Poverty is a serious problem and the Church provides assistance for poor people and refugees. “
However the freedom of the Church in Myanmar is restricted. The government keeps strict control of the community and the movement of bishops, although it does not interfere with ordinations of bishops or priests.
After the arrest of Myanmar’s civil rights leader Aung San Su Kyi on May 30, the European Union called on Myanmar authorities to release all political prisoners and encouraged the ASEAN countries, Association of South East Asian Nations, as well as China, India and Japan, to use all their influence to “actively promote the necessary political change in Myanmar”. PA (Fides Service 1/7/2003 EM lines 44 Words: 590)