Pope Francis’ prayer for peace in Myanmar
IT must have been the precept of “to the poor, to the least” that inspired Pope Francis to undertake a historic four-day visit to Myanmar this week. The trip was highly successful as it has brought out the goodwill and kind spirits of all stakeholders in the country’s peace process.
Relations between Myanmar and the Vatican are very young but, nonetheless, very dynamic. After the meeting at the Vatican between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the pontiff in May, Pope Francis strengthened diplomatic relations quickly by coming to Myanmar. Indeed, the timing of his trip is perfect as the country is facing criticism over its handling of the crisis in Rakhine State. The international media zeroed in on his visit – lots of criticism was aired – but the pontiff decided to go ahead nonetheless, because he wanted to have first-hand dialogue with all stakeholders in the crisis. Indeed, he met with all key civilian, military and religious figures during his trip.
During the meetings, his message was crystal clear: be tolerant, coexist and embrace all faiths. Furthermore, his speeches in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw dwelled on the theme of forgiveness and love in time of conflict. He also wanted to give strength to all who struggle to live decent lives.
Looking back at his history, since he was named the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, he has been rather extraordinary. He kicked off the “Year of Mercy”, reminding priests to forgive “the sin of abortion”. His trust in God’s forgiveness is unquestionable. Throughout his papacy, he has ventured to bring peace and reconciliation among foes. His role of mending Us-cuba relations has been highly praised. In the case of Myanmar, the pontiff created news headlines by appointing Charles Maung Bo as a cardinal. In 2014, the Catholic Church celebrated 500 years in Myanmar, where Catholics make up only 1 percent of the population.
This visit gave Myanmar people, some of whom have long been traumatised by endless civil wars and religious conflicts, a unique opportunity to meet the pope. For his visit, thousands of devout Catholics from every corner of the country made a long train journey to Yangon to receive his blessing at the country’s first outdoor papal Mass.
Pope Francis’ visit will generate positive forces both in the government and among the general public to work together for peace and reconciliation. His next stop in Bangladesh is equally important because it would require the close cooperation of these two neighbouring countries to implement fully the recent memorandum of understanding to repatriate refugees from camps along the border.
In the months to come, the global attention will be focused on Myanmar and its policy initiatives and their implementation in Rakhine. Therefore, the government’s decision to set up an internationally compliant committee to oversee implementation of recovery work in Rakhine is a welcome development that demonstrates Myanmar’s serious intent to tackle the crisis head on.