Listen: Cardinal Charles Maung Bo in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo is Myanmar’s most senior Catholic. Currently visiting Australia, Cardinal Bo believes his nation’s future depends on the leadership of faith leaders.
Speaking on Open House, Cardinal Bo said the church is “giving peace building a top priority.”
“When Pope Francis visited last year he gave the message to all the groups in the country to the government, as well as to the military, to young people also the Buddhist monks, the Catholic bishops, the religious leaders. The Pope was insisting on building peace especially as a duty of the religious leaders. He came with a motto of love and peace in the country. So that [love and peace] I think the bishop’s conference of Myanmar is trying to pursue in every way possible.” explained Cardinal Bo to Stephen O’Doherty.
Catholic Mission Appeal
Cardinal Bo is visiting as a guest of Catholic Mission, whose major Church Appeal in 2018 is raising funds for education programs in Myanmar.
“The Catholic church is a minority in Myanmar. There are places with no schools and no education especially in ethnic conflict areas. We are getting a big assistance and encouragement from Catholic Mission.” says Cardinal Bo
Catholic Mission National Director Father Brian Lucas says “Cardinal Bo is a remarkable leader who has toiled relentlessly for peace and reconciliation in Myanmar. He has been one of the strongest advocates for peaceful resolution to all conflict in his country, primarily through interreligious dialogue.”
Aung San Suu Kyi
An energetic campaigner for peace and reconciliation in his homeland, Cardinal Bo has decried human rights abuses in Rakhine State and elsewhere, while defending State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi against stinging international criticism.
When asked about Aung San Suu Kyi, Cardinal Bo felt international commentators and critics of the Nobel Peace Prize winner did not understand the difficult and complex situation in Myanmar.
Cardinal Bo knows her well and met with her just two weeks before he spoke on Open House.
“Of course that’s a personal relationship in the sense that I’ve been friendly with the family for many years. I admire her because of her principles and integrity also for her sacrifice that her family and herself make for the country.”
Aung San Suu Kyi is from a very prominent family. Her father Aung San, who was assassinated in 1945, is considered the ‘Father of modern Myanmar’. Cardinal Bo believes people should maintain their belief that Aung San Suu Kyi will get the job done. He warns that the alternative is dire.
‘I dare to state that eliminating Aung San Suu Kyi, neglecting Aung San Suu Kyi, or rejecting Aung San Suu Kyi means that indirectly you welcoming again the military dictatorship in Myanmar and I don’t see any other choice.”
“So the military holds 25% of the parliament and also holds the areas of Defence, Home Affairs and the Border issues which constitutionally, she has no power to make any comments on. The people trust her but the trust is not as high as it was two years ago” according to Cardinal Bo.
“We don’t have any other leader who can change the country. Clearly the Pope believes Aung Sun Suu Kyi is the way to peace and we don’t want to destabilise her in any way.” says Cardinal Bo.
They expect a miracle
“The people trust her, in fact too much, and they expect her to work a miracle overnight to change the whole situation after 60, 70 years of military dictatorship, to a very polished democracy. Their expectation was too much.”
”She herself is playing a very delicate and slippery role between the people and the military. Definitely she is in a difficult situation which the internationally community do not understand her” he says.
Cardinal Bo has very recently seen the areas in Rakhine state where the government are planning to allow Rohingya people to return to.
“The government is trying to focus energy to welcome back the Rohingya. Two weeks ago I visited there. Places are ready there to welcome them back “
Asked on Open House if the Rohingya could trust the government, Cardinal Bo says “On that issue [trust] the government is trying its best. They [Rohingya returning from Bangladesh] will receive their documents and then gradually they are planning to give them citizenship.”
Cardinal Bo also believes that while the Myanmar government and military have been held to account there needs to be recognition of wrongdoing by Rohingya militants.
“Just listening to one party won’t solve the problem. “Not all of it was done by the military. [There were] murders and atrocities done by the Salvation Army [Rohingya militants].” says Cardinal Bo. He has spoken to people who have given him personal accounts “….witnesses of Hindu ethnic families where men were killed by this armed [Rohingya] group and Buddhist villages also suffered under this Salvation Army.” he explained.
“From the time we got independence from the British in 1948 up to now there has been civil war going on. Perhaps the longest civil war in the world.” says Cardinal Bo.
“Perhaps we have also to blame the British and also that we took up government too soon. It started with the assassination of general Aung San” [ the father of Aung San Suu Kyi]. Later on we enjoyed a few years of democracy and then Prime Minister declared Buddhism the state religion. That was the time most of the time the ethnic and religious groups took up arms to fight for their religious right.” reflects Cardinal Bo.
Power, authority, natural resources
“Our main problem is power but also authority and natural resources. Natural resources which become a blessing and a curse in a county. If there is no justice in equal sharing, it is a little difficult to work for peace. But Aung San Suu Kyi is calling everybody – all the different groups to come to the peace conference, ‘put down the signature for cease fire and lets have a dialogue’.” explained Cardinal Bo on Open House.
Cardinal Bo says that even though there are peace conferences going on progress is very slow.
“The Kachin group especially don’t trust easily the Myanmar military. … [There is a] demand for federalism, [an] equal share over government and power and especially an equal share of the natural resources. Eighty percent of the natural resources are in that area with the ethnic groups. They do not have an equal share . Almost everything has been taken by military generals with their cronies. Also very much has been taken and exported to China. I think peace and ceasefire would not happen so easily unless the government and the military move to federalism and sharing of natural resources” says Cardinal Bo.
October interfaith meeting
Cardinal Bo has already sponsored a number of important interfaith meetings and is planning another this October. As well as faith leaders there will be representatives from the government, the military and various diplomats. However, he concedes that while getting the various groups together is important it is not easy to find solutions in a country with many languages and 135 recognised ethnic groups.
“That’s how we could in practice we could further this work of peace. Which of course is not easy especially it’s difficult to get agreement from the military and these ethnic groups. Looking back to the past history, humanly speaking this reconciliation forgiveness, peace building, is difficult. At the same time whenever we have a gathering of the religious leaders we are always saying that any religion not only the Christians but also the Buddhists and the Muslims every religion…. are all talking about love and peace.” says Cardinal Bo.
We need to heal
According to Cardinal Bo there is hope for a peaceful future.
“Although our situation is a little complex I think with the good will of everyone especially with the majority being the Buddhists. We have to educate our monks. We have 500,00 Buddhist monks and 70,000 Buddhist nuns. Gradually with our friendship, with understanding each other and the hurts and feeling of others we will have to heal. As the Pope was telling us we have to heal the visible and invisible wounds of people.”
“There is a lot of good will we must try to build among ourselves especially. Before going to other political or law or anything we must try to have a one person contact and a friendly contact. That would be the first step to building peace in the country.” he says.
Pray the prayer of St Francis
Cardinal Bo asked the people of Australia to pray for his country and especially the prayer of St Francis of Assisi.
“Where there is hatred, love. Where there is revenge, forgiveness. That’s the famous prayer of St Francis of Assisi. I think that everybody, even the Buddhists community in Myanmar would accept that prayer. Even Aung San Suu Kyi herself wants all the people of Myanmar to pray the prayer of St Francis of Assisi “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.” That’s the prayer that is so valuable and meaningful that inspires every ethnic group and every religion in the world.” says Cardinal Bo.
Cardinal Bo has written an essay reflecting on Myanmar moving forward to a future of justice and peace. In the essay he writes;
We are a hopeful people. Hope sustained us for the last 50 years. Amidst all onslaughts we maintained our dignity and refused to be cowed down by evil.
As hope begins to dawn again for Myanmar, we are strengthened by the words of Jesus Christ:
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move.
Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)
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More from Open House
- Rohingya refugee camp like “Walking through the gates of hell” – Tim Costello
- Myanmar accused of apartheid – Amnesty International
- Landmines used against fleeing Rohingya – Amnesty International