Easter message from Myanmar: 'Resurrection is not just a dogma'

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) received an Easter message from Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Let me begin with a little story. Around the year 1921 in a small Catholic (Christian) village there was a village celebration of Easter. Many non-Catholics joined with their relatives and friends. 

Suddenly an old woman, a  non-Catholic died. She was loved by the villagers and all were her friends and many were related to her. A question arose: Where should she be buried? 

It was Roman Catholic territory and church law forbade any but baptized Roman Catholics be buried in the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery -- and that was the only cemetery around. Where would she be buried? Finally, though, it was settled, the decision was made by that she was to be buried just outside the cemetery fence. 

So it was done. During the night, however, the Parish Priest and three Catholics moved the fence so that it would include the grave of their beloved old lady inside the sacred ground.

Now that's what Christ does, and that's the task of Christians -- to move fences, to tear down walls.

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and has given us the ministry of Reconciliation."

"God was in Christ, putting his arms around the world and hugging it to Himself."


Easter breaks forth like a dawn.  Its message is soaked in hope.  Even the longest night ends in dawn. Every human suffering has an expiry date.  The beacon of human journey is hope. Today we celebrate that hope in the Easter Season. 

Life is not an empty dream.   Christ is the life.   I am the way, the truth and the life says Jesus.  We affirm that hope of a living God, the Emmanuel in our lives today.

For those of us in Myanmar, resurrection is not just a dogma or an act of faith.  We went through our way of the Cross for the last five decades.

Our way of the Cross did not end in a day; it stretched to 50 long, cruel years.

A nation was crucified and left to hang on the cross of inhumanity!

Yes.  How excruciating pain this nation has went through! As darkness of inhumanity engulfed this innocent nation in the sixties, the sons and daughters of this rainbow nation were   nailed to a cross of injustice. A cross where the five nails of dictatorship, war, displacement, poverty and oppression were brutally inflicted by men who were agents of darkness.

The Roman Empire was rattled by the stories and the Good News of a roaming preacher, Jesus and chose to nail him on the cross.   A similar fate awaited thousands of our young men and women who asked for a 'morsel of justice'. Hundreds died on the cross.  Conflict welded with injustice and made this nation a virtual hell.  We were a Good Friday people, without a hope of Holy Saturday and Easter was a distant dream.

But there are streaks of hope in this nation today.   As streaks of hope breaks through this nation, we need to look back and say, ' the Lord has done marvels for us, Blessed be His name' (Lk. 1:40).
A leadership that is willing to experiment with an incremental  democracy,  a parliament where diverse views are debated, a media that is becoming bolder and more vibrant, greater openness to civil society – all point to an strutting dawn of hope in this nation.  We feel the signs of resurrection.  Hope is nurtured in the hearts of thousands who await their date with destiny.

We hope and pray that this is not a false dawn.  We were used to false dawns in this nation.  A nagging feeling rips our hearts as we see powers of darkness compete today with the paths of hope in a new Myanmar.  

There are signs of new crucifixion with five new nails:

   1. Land grabbing by the cronies and the companies,   2. Collective religious hatred fanned by the fire of hate speech by   Neo-Nazi movements,   3. The arrogant march of a heartless neo liberal economy,   4. Continued conflict and displacement in ethnic community areas and   5. A sinister 'sentir' economy that favors the rich and the powerful.

Nails seemed to be getting ready. Who is the victim? Who is the lamb to be slaughtered?
Are we   searching in the tomb resurrection or in the first steps of yet another anguished way to another Calvary?  Is the new Myanmar pregnant with hope conceived through the sacrifices of thousands or is there a miscarriage of justice? We are in the birth pangs of a new nation as the Easter dawns on us.
These unsettling questions can   provoke darkness at the noon time in this nation!

But we are the Easter People.

We invest in hope. We invest in the goodness of the people of Myanmar.   We invest in a young nation, with 40 percent population below the age of 25 years, filled with dreams and impatient to take their overdue place on the world stage.

How to avoid yet another false dawn in this nation?

The path shown by Jesus is the only way. That is the path of reconciliation. The core message of Resurrection is reconciliation.  The hope that swells in the heart of every citizen needs to be cemented through reconciliation.

Reconciliation is the core message of Christianity.

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" Christians have a special duty for reconciliation.  Easter bestows on each one of us to carry on this message of reconciliation.  

St. Paul says "God gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). The whole message of reconciliation is centered on the love of God and the death of Christ. Paul reminds us that "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Rom. 5:11)

A great Coincidence - Water Festival and Easter

This week Myanmar people celebrate the Holy Thingyan festival. This is the season of rejoicing. This is season of reconciling for our people. For a week an explosion of fun and frolic the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the ruler and the ruled, the Burmese and non-Burmese will be spraying the  gift of life, water on one another as brothers and sisters.

This feast is a feast of reconciliation even during the times of dictatorial rules. It is coincident that Easter week falls on the same week affirming the enduring universal mission of reconciliation.  Both the water festival and Easter point towards a new creation, a new humanity cleansed of all sin and hatred.
All are born again as brothers in sisters. What a significant message for Myanmar in 2014!

St. Paul rejoices with us all when we become new:  'Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold they become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ' (2. Cor. 5: 17-20)

How does Easter affect our practical Lives?  This is the Season of Reconciliation.

•*Personal Reconciliation*:  The lent ends with forty days of holy observance. During these forty days we commemorate seminal events in the Bible.   Christ who came to save all of us was himself tested by evil in the desert for forty days. (Mathew 4) 

We are asked to cleanse ourselves from our tendency to sin. As Paul struggled with law of flesh and law of spirit (Rom. 7, 8) we are struggling with good and evil. Sin crouches at the door waiting (Gen.  4:8) to destroy us.  This creates fractured relationship and anxiety. We are called to mend our relationship with God as the prodigal son did with his father.  It is the time to return to God.

*Reconciliation in the family*: We are a community. We worship a God who lives in community as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.  The most challenging life today is the family life and its lifelong commitment to one another.  Genesis blessed the marriage with the glorious words " They are not two - but one" (Gen. 2:14).   Today's world has challenged the families. Every Easter brings the hope that disunited families seek reconciliation and derive inspiration from the Holy Family.

*Reconciliation with one another especially with the enemies*:  “Love your enemies and do Good to those who hate you" (Mt. 5:38-42) the radical message of Jesus inspired thousands including Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and leaders from our own nation.   St. Paul exhorts us that we all are the same body of Christ.   Hope springs forth in the heart of every Myanmar citizens as the government and the ethnic groups are in cease fire and arrive at draft resolution for the conflicts raging in this nation for the last six decades.

*Reconciliation among communities in Myanmar*:   St Paul reminds are that we are all part of the mystical body of Christ, each one forming the different parts of the body. (I Cor. 12:12-30). "We are brothers and sisters" of this great nation. Without this attitude there can be no peace in the world, says Pope Francis. 

The binary configuration of this nation's history with the Bama majority claiming all rights and challenging others to the status of nothing has wrought wars, conflict and unbearable suffering for all.

The risen Christ brought a single message "Peace be with you" (Lk. 24:36). 

Pope Paul contextualized Christ's perennial message saying: "If you want peace, work for Justice."   Justice is in short supply in ethnic areas. For the Common Good all stakeholders need to address justice issues. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the resurrection base their domain on Justice.  Return to Justice and Return to reconciliation in this nation of 135 communities.   Diversity is dignity.  Respect and Reconcile.

*Reconciliation with Creation.* for a nation that is blessed with all natural resources, the sixty years saw a worst kind of rape of our resources. As the neo liberal economy explodes in the company of cronies, as a people and nation we are to guard our resource - water, forests and lands.   We need to be reconciled with the God's creation.

Christ reminds us of our awesome responsibility: just as he has reconciled us to himself by forgiving us, we are to go and seek reconciliation with those who have sinned against us. We, following God's example, are to forgive those who have hurt, troubled, and wronged us! Just as God took the initiative to forgive us - we are to take the initiative to forgive others.God expects us to forgive them in our hearts and to let them know it by the way we show it in our lives. We are to begin treating them with love as though they had never done anything against us. Reconciliation with our neighbor is the direct result of our forgiveness. There can be no genuine reconciliation without genuine forgiveness.

But the more I thought about it, the more palatable and the more gripping the idea became. Practice being God.  Listen to verse 16: "From now on, therefore, we regard none from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer."
He was talking about practicing being God -- not viewing persons from a human point of view, but from a God perspective. And when we have that perspective, the ministry of Reconciliation follows.

So when are we most like Christ? We are most like Christ when we are doing what He did in his extravagant gift of love on Calvary -- forgiving. Humanity marches on men and women who rebuild.
Before I end this message let me put forward a practical and small step making ourselves ambassadors of God by offering our  support for a new campaign called Panzagar, or "flower speech," founded this month by Myanmar blogger Nay Phone Latt, which aims to tackle hate speech in Myanmar, particularly on social media.

"Even the ordinary simple Buddhists are becoming definitely prejudiced against the other. So if anything happens, they always go for violence. So I think the government should move against this hate speech. So far the authorities have not made any statement on this hate speech.

In short this is my Easter message: to call for more religious tolerance in Myanmar, adding that a positive approach to promoting religion is needed.

The religious leaders must preach the goodness of their own religion in order to attract them. "Preaching the goodness of one's religion, or holiness of one's religion, should be emphasized, rather than attacking the other religion. If we have respect for the other religions, we promote our own religion. Unity in diversity is our destiny.   Diversity is dignity -not a danger. We all belong to this great nation"

Nations that celebrated Diversity reaped the dividends of peace and prosperity.  Nations that sowed hatred went down the spiral of war and displacement.   We shall not allow a handful of myopic individuals to masquerading as protectors of this nation to strangle the dreams of a young nation, soaked in hope for a bright dawn.  Hatred has no place in a new Nation.

Myanmar's destiny is Peace and Prosperity.    Let us celebrate the diversity of this rainbow nation. Choose life!

Once again, HAPPY EASTER.

+ Archbishop Charles Bo, Yangon. Myanmar*


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