On the Road with Cardinal Bo, a Personal Reflection

Featured image left to right: David Burrowes MP, Sir David Amess MP, Cardinal Bo, and CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas. Photo Credit: mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

In the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, the parliamentary chapel just underneath Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament, Burma’s first-ever Cardinal celebrated Mass.

“Coming from a country, Burma, that is just emerging from over half a century of cruel, brutal military dictatorship, a country torn apart by war, ravaged by religious and ethnic persecution, with rampant corruption and dire poverty, into a new Easter dawn of democracy, to stand here in this chapel with all that it symbolises and represents is an immense joy,” Cardinal Charles Bo said. “Britain and the British Parliament has a long history with Burma; many of you have been with us in our darkest hour, stretching out a hand of friendship and solidarity in our time of need, raising a voice for us when we were voiceless.”

It was just one of many beautiful and significant moments during Cardinal Bo’s almost three-week tour of the United Kingdom and Brussels, which began with Mass in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, with a piper on the door. The tour then took us the length and breadth of the UK, and to Westminster and the European Union.

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The Plight of the Rohingya – His Eminence Cardinal Charles Maung Bo Addresses the Houses of Parliament, London, 25 May 2016

On May 25th Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Burma, spoke before a meeting chaired by Lord Alton and hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Burma, the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the Catholic Legislators Network. Below are sections from that speech, on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Burma and the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Burma. Please contact CSW‘s office for a copy of the full speech and further recommendations. 


My country, Myanmar, now stands on the threshold of hope. We were once a Good Friday people, enduring our crucifixion as a nation on the cross of inhumanity and injustice, with five nails: dictatorship, war, displacement, poverty and oppression. Easter seemed a distant dream. My country was buried in the tomb of oppression and exploitation for six decades.

But today, we can perhaps begin to say that we are an Easter people. A new dawn has arisen. But it brings with it fresh challenges: reconciliation and peace-making, religious intolerance, land grabbing, constitutional limitations, and the fragile nature of a nascent democratic transition. And the old dangers have not gone away: the military remains powerful, corruption is widespread, and ethnic conflict continues in some parts of Myanmar.

“We were once a Good Friday people, enduring our crucifixion as a nation on the cross of inhumanity and injustice (…) But today, we can perhaps begin to say that we are an Easter people. A new dawn has arisen.”

Despite winning an enormous mandate from the people, Aung San Suu Kyi is barred by the Constitution from becoming President. The military, under the Constitution, retain control of three key ministries – Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defence – and 25% of the seats in Parliament reserved for them. One of the two Vice-Presidents is a military appointee. So the new government is constrained, the military is still very powerful, and the country continues to face enormous challenges. Our journey has not ended; we are simply entering into a new chapter in our continuing struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights, human dignity and peace.

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Burma’s Election: Winning is Just the Beginning

For anyone who has worked on Burma for any length of time, Aung San Suu Kyi’s overwhelming election victory is a cause for hope and celebration. A quarter of a century after winning a mandate in Burma’s last freely contested elections, her party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – has shown that no amount of repression could drive it away. The military-backed government and the current President, former general Thein Sein, appear to have finally heard the voice of the people and pledged to honour the result. It would be very easy to think that our work in Burma was done and that all is well.

The entrenched power of the military

In reality, the military remain extremely powerful and the new government will face many grave challenges. The NLD’s election victory is certainly a step forward but, as Aung San Suu Kyi has said, it is just the beginning.

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