Tuesday, 23 September 2003

Vatican City (Fides Service) – Deep in the forest in central Myanmar, groups of young Catholic missionaries called Zetamans, (little evangelisers) go around villages teaching children to know and love Jesus. Fides learned about this experience from Bishop Peter Hla, auxiliary of Taunggyi diocese situated in a remote area of Myanmar.
Myanmar is governed by a military junta which grants only limited religious freedom. “In this mainly Buddhist country – the Bishop says- we are few, 600,000 Catholics in a population of 51 million. We cannot evangelise, we can only witness to our faith with life style and charity.”
Taunggyi diocese has 46,000 Catholics gathered in 18 parishes. “Many of them live in the main city Taunggyi, but many others are in remote villages in imperious areas difficult to reach. It is there that our Zetaman young missionaries work villages in mountainous areas where priests and religious are unable to go. They stay a few days with the local people sharing village life and teaching the children in various subjects. Their life style is one of love, and friendship. When someone asks about the faith they gladly share with them the truths of Christianity. They explain their reasons for hope and tell people that once you meet Christ your life is changed”.
Catholics witness to their faith mainly with charity works. “We have homes for the disabled, for the terminally ill, leprosy centres, orphanages, open to everyone, believers and non. Our schools, run mostly by nuns, give children a good all round education: our pupils who go on to state high school always distinguish themselves for their excellent preparation”.
With regard to the political and economic situation in Myanmar Bishop Hla tells Fides: “We defend the rights and dignity of every human person. But people are very poor and for the majority life is a daily struggle. The Church tries to assistance those in need, to offer help and encouragement. People see the Church as an organisation which defends truth and charity and we are appreciated by all, including Buddhists.”
The Bishop speaks of religious freedom. “The government controls our activity. We have freedom of worship but not to evangelise. We hope soon to be allowed to carry out our pastoral work, community life and evangelisation freely”.
The Myanmar government is under pressure from western countries, human rights groups and NGOs since May when the army arrested opposition National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, kept by police in a secret place. Recently UN General Secretary Kofi Annan decided to send a special envoy Razial Ismail to request the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. The UN special envoy will be in Myanmar from 30 September to 2 October. PA (Fides Service 23/9/2003 EM lines 48 Words: 600)