Catholic Archbishop Charles Bo on interfaith harmony in Myanmar

24 February 2016
Catholic Archbishop Charles Bo on interfaith harmony in Myanmar
Pope South Korean Cardinal Paul TschangIn Nam (Right) and Catholic Cardinal Charles Bo (Left) Photo: Hong Sar/Mizzima

The challenge of maintaining religious harmony in Myanmar continues to be a hot-button issue. During the recent visit of envoy to the Pope South Korean Cardinal Paul TschangIn Nam to Myanmar, Mizzima spoke with Catholic Cardinal Charles Bo and briefly with Cardinal Paul Tschang In Nam about their approach to interfaith harmony.
The followings are the excerpt of the interview.
Mizzima – Your eminence, how do you think the new government can resolve religious issues in Myanmar?
Cardinal Charles – We don’t know yet how the new government will resolve these issues exactly. In my opinion, the civil war must be resolved and tackled first and then the religious issue can be tackled. And then the issues of ethnic nationalities can be tackled, for instance, the government must listen to both sides, Bengali and Rakhine.
Historically Chittagong has coexisted with Myanmar, the people migrated to and fro between these places. For many centuries, some of them lived in Myanmar, some of them returned back to Chittagong. They entered and exited frequently. They did not settle permanently. But some of them have lived in Rakhine State for many years. History cannot be neglected and ignored. This must be resolved step by step through negotiations. The two governments cannot resolve this issue once and for all. It is important not to be extreme in both politics and religion. They are our brothers and sisters. These brothers and sisters became homeless. They are deprived of food. At this time, we must consider for them on humanitarian grounds. I cannot say how far this issue can be resolved and how fast.
Mizzima – Your eminence, can you give advice to the new government on how to deal with this issue?
Charles – The next government cannot leave this issue unresolved. It is important for them to resolve this issue. Some of them entered the country and some of them left the country. Either the government or military should compromise with them by showing kindness and mercy. In this way, it can be resolved.
Mizzima – Currently in neighbouring Bangladesh, churches are being destroyed. Can this chaos and anarchy spread to Myanmar?
Charles – It’s difficult to answer in relation to Bangladesh. There are conflicts in some places in Bangladesh and there are religious conflicts in some places in Bangladesh. In fact, we have freedom in faith. We have fundamental rights to freedom of religion. We must have mutual respect regarding this. We must have respect in each other regardless of race and creed, poor or rich. We should see ourselves as human beings living together at home equally and peacefully, we should not see ourselves as Bangladeshi or Myanmar.
Mizzima – Before five years ago, there were restrictions on holding religious functions and festivals. What is your opinion on the current situation?
Charles – The current situation is quite different from when the military regime was in power. The situation was even worse in the socialist era. There were more restrictions on us. Now we are freer than before. All religions can get equal opportunities in getting permits for religious functions and festivals. Buddhists can have their festivals and our Christians which are only 3% of the population can have theirs too. So there’s no problem.
Mizzima – What should the new government do first? What’s your opinion on this?
Charles – Peace. Peace and reconciliation are the most important. It is important to understand and forgive what happened over the past 30 years. I don’t mean forgiving is totally forgetting and ignoring. But sometimes something should be done fairly and justly.
Mizzima – The Vatican has embassies in many countries. Will His Holiness the Pope open such an embassy in Myanmar too?
Charles – We have talked with previous governments on opening an embassy in Myanmar. They replied that we had to wait as there will be political changes. We will continue the matter of diplomatic ties with the Vatican with the next government.
Mizzima – What would you say to the Myanmar people, your eminences?
Paul – My message for the Myanmar people in all religions, Catholic and all other religions, is to strive for unity and development in the country.
Charles – Catholicism is one of the religions in Myanmar. There are many ethnic nationalities which follow the Catholic faith. I wish development in all sectors including education in Myanmar not only just for the Catholic faith.