ASIA/MYANMAR - Bishop among refugees: "Like sheep among wolves, we trust in the Good Shepherd"

Tuesday, 19 December 2023 civil war   displaced persons   christmas  

diocesi di Loikaw

Loikaw (Agenzia Fides) - These are heartfelt and moving words, words full of faith and a source of consolation, that Bishop Celso Ba Shwe of Loikaw, in the Burmese state of Kayah, in the north of Myanmar, addresses to the community of his faithful in view of Christmas. As confirmed to Fides, the complex of Christ the King Cathedral and the adjacent Diocesan Pastoral Center in Loikaw remain occupied by the Burmese army, which uses it as a military base camp. The Bishop, the priests and his collaborators, who were expelled from their usual residence (see Fides, 28/11/2023), live as displaced persons, partly in parishes spared by the conflict, partly in health centers and religious houses, and sometimes in tents or makeshift shelters among the faithful scattered in the woods. What lies ahead for them will be a refugee Christmas marked by uncertainty and hardship. The bishop outlines a dramatic situation: "We are in the middle of an armed conflict in which, in the face of destruction and political chaos, we have had to abandon all our parishes. We have had to abandon the cathedral and leave practically everything in our diocesan pastoral center. "The situation in the territory of the diocese, affected by the clashes, is very dangerous, most of the parishes have been abandoned and are empty. This raises the question of whether the churches still function and whether the Diocese of Loikaw still exists." The occupation of the cathedral, the heart and symbol of the diocesan community, could indeed cause discouragement and despair in the community, but it is precisely in this situation that the Bishop wants to encourage the people of God with a message to the faithful in the pastoral letter on the occasion of Christmas reaffirm the hope that rests on the providence of God the Father: "I would like to recall that a diocese is a part of the People of God, entrusted to a bishop in collaboration with the presbytery. It is not just a geographical area, but a community that gathers around the bishop in unity with the presbytery. The main dynamic of the community is the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the Eucharist. In our case, the Church founded by Christ is alive and present even in suffering. It is important that we all remain united and build a community that crosses this desert, gathered around the Gospel and the Eucharist. We know that Christ, the Good Shepherd, cares for the flock for which he gave his life." And priests, religious and catechists show faith and courage in the midst of distress: "I thank you priests for your closeness to the Bishop and the people, for your generous pastoral collaboration. I thank the religious, men and women, and all the faithful who are true disciples of Christ, for your adherence to the Gospel and the constant celebration of the Eucharist",said the Bishop. Bishop Celso Ba Shwe calls on all believers to do God's will in the "here and now" and to trust in him: "As we go through this harrowing experience, we may wonder whether God doesn't have a better way for us. But we can be confident that this is His will for us now, and it is the best way to proclaim and testify to His power." The image that the bishop recalls is the image from the Gospel in which Jesus says: "I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves" (Mt 10:16) and introduces himself as a "good shepherd". "We must not doubt his words: as promised to St. Paul, Jesus says: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness'. We have every reason to trust in him, who will not stop supporting us to do good, because 'the Lord is the Good Shepherd, I shall not lack anything' (Psalm 23)". Quoting John Chrysostom, Bishop Ba Shwe affirms: "As long as we are sheep, we will be victorious, and even if we are surrounded by many wolves, we will overcome them. But if we become wolves, we will be defeated because "we are deprived of the help of the shepherd. He does not feed wolves, but sheep.
Therefore he will go away and leave you alone, because you prevent him from developing his power." In this situation, he continues, "let us do our best to behave like good sheep, caring for one another, encouraging one another, showing love and doing good." The pastoral letter concludes by placing the community of the diocese in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, who "in the dark night of Bethlehem with all love adored and protected the Child of God, God Incarnate and Prince of Peace": "May Mother Maria and Saint Joseph protect you from all dangers of evil and war; may you find the peace that the Lord gives on Christmas Day", we read. Kayah State, Myanmar's smallest state, which is predominantly hilly and mountainous and inhabited primarily by the Karenni ethnic group, is home to about 300,000 people and is home to the Diocese of Loikaw with about 93,000 Catholics. In the diocese, 21 of 41 parishes are affected by the conflict. Many priests and religious have followed the faithful who have fled the cities to the countryside or mountains and live with them as displaced persons, sharing their fate and continuing to celebrate the sacraments in makeshift places. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 19/12/2023)