But the Church in Burma grew 'even amid the most suffocating oppressions', Cardinal Bo said
After decades of suffering, Burma is entering a “season of hope”, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has said.
During a Mass at Westminster Cathedral Burma’s first ever cardinal compared the recent history of his country to Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost.
He said: “Our country was taken to five decades of Calvary by evil men. Every one thought this was a country without an Easter. You have witnessed from afar the suffering of this nation. Those times many countries did undergo the way of the Cross. There was an iron curtain. But our country was under what was called a bamboo curtain.”
The cardinal described how the country, which was placed under oppressive military rule in 1962, singled out the Church for persecution. He described how “our Calvary was marked by enforced starvation, denied education to the youth, arrest and incarceration of thousands for asking for basic rights, the death and disappearance of thousands.
“The country closed itself. The Catholic church was singled out for persecution. Overnight the missionaries serving the poor and the vulnerable were expelled.”
Following decades of rule under the military junta, President Htin Kyaw was sworn in in March, marking the first democratic elections.
Cardinal Bo said that throughout the hard years “God did not abandon our nation” and that in fact the number of Christians increased despite suffocation oppression.
“The church was like a mustard seed but like the Biblical example it grow into a tree … Amidst one of the most suffocating oppressions, the Church grew. From just three dioceses we grew into 16 dioceses. From 100,000 people we are now 700,000 faithful, from 160 priests we are now 700 priests, from 300 religious we are now more than 2,200 religious, 60 percent of them below the age of 40.
“A young and vibrant Church is extending social support through 16 Caritas networks. God walked with us in our way of the Cross ensuring that our Easter was enriched in faith. We are a confident and growing Church in southeast Asia and recently started sending missionaries to other countries. We are not yet totally free but we have proved that we cannot be pruned from history.”
The cardinal also praised Nobel laureate and pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, who endured decades of house arrest and intimidation by military rulers without ever giving up on her peaceful campaign against them.
He said: “Her moral courage shook one of the [most] arrogant [armies] in the world. With her silence, with her redemptive suffering as a prisoner, she melted decades of oppression. A nascent democracy is born in this nation.
“Myanmar is proud today that its Easter moment came in the most peaceful manner, through a woman whose belief in peace and non-violence stands in stark contrast to the violent conflicts in many parts of the world. It is a great inspiration that peace is possible and moral power still can overcome all human suffering.”
He concluded: “This is an Easter season for the world. Despite the bad news in the Middle East, the world is waking up to a new Pentecost phase. This season culminates in the Pentecost. Pentecost is the birth of Christianity.”