Volume 24, Issue 10
ON a recent visit to Melbourne, Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, gave an update on the human-rights and refugee issues facing his country.
Archbishop Bo’s presentation at Newman College on 6 May was a humbling look at Myanmar's progress over the past decade. Organisers noted the air of ‘freedom and hope’ with which the Archbishop spoke.
Freedom of speech has long been an issue with Myanmar. In 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose father was assassinated in 1947 while serving as prime minister of British Burma, was released after spending almost 15 years under house arrest by the military junta. Although Ms Suu Kyi now holds a seat in Parliament, there is still a long way to go before peace and democracy reign in Myanmar.
Archbishop Bo said while the country hoped Ms Suu Kyi would get the presidency in 2015, her work now must include ensuring that any political party that did ascend to power was not run solely by military officials and amending constitutional articles that disqualified candidates with foreign relatives (Ms Suu Kyi has two sons who are British citizens).
After 60 years of institutional destruction in Myanmar, the Archbishop opined that the country struggled in three key areas: state building, nation building, and peace building. A slew of internal conflicts and military power-broking had not helped, with 40 per cent of the population still living below the poverty line. Add to that the double-edged sword of international investment, which provided the allure of progress but left thousands displaced and at risk of land sharks.
Despite the long road ahead, Archbishop Bo remains hopeful that his country will progress. He recognises a greater openness from the government, and applauds its readiness to engage with civil society.
The Archbishop also shared his gratitude to mission agencies Caritas and Catholic Mission for their continuing aid, which helped communities gain access to basic education and health care. While Catholics in Myanmar represent a mere 1.3 per cent of the country’s 59 million population, the Church has established a wide-ranging network across the country, offering assistance and support to the poor and indigenous—even encouraging interreligious dialogue at a higher level.
In sharing this positive outlook for his country, Archbishop Bo smiled meekly and whispered: ‘The people who have walked in the darkness have seen the light. Praise be to God.’
Photo: (Left) Archbishop Charles Bo of Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi. Courtesy of Archbishop Bo.