“Just a year ago” the Pope’s visit to Myanmar “would have been just a dream”. These were the words of Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, in his greeting to the Pontiff, who had just celebrated a Mass which included Catholics from all over the country: an impressive gathering of tens of thousands who had come to participate in the liturgy. “We are like Zacchaeus. Amidst nations we could not see our shepherd. Like Zaccheus, we were called: come down, I want to come to your house”, the Cardinal said, evoking the episode of Jesus’ visit to the tax collector in the Gospel of Luke, at the beginning of Chapter 19. And now “we go back with extraordinary spiritual energy, proud to be Catholics”, because “a miracle has been enacted today”, the Archbishop exclaimed. The words of gratitude offered by Archbishop Bo, the first Cardinal in the country’s history, could not have better expressed the significance of the first papal visit ever made to Myanmar.
In his turn, the Pope said to the people during his homily: “I have come as a fellow pilgrim to listen and to learn from you” and “to offer you some words of hope and consolation”. His words pointed toward “healing” the country’s many wounds, “both visible and invisible”. A journey in which the Church, in the minority yet “alive” and well in this nation, is concretely “helping great numbers of men, women and children, regardless of religion or ethnic background”. Pope Francis emphasized.
In an almost entirely Buddhist country, the Pontiff then met with its most prominent religious council, comprised of some 50 monks. The encounter was “an important occasion to renew and strengthen the bonds of friendship and respect between Buddhists and Catholics”, as Pope Bergoglio immediately noted. Moreover, it was “an opportunity for us to affirm a commitment to peace, respect for human dignity and justice”, and to help the members of both religions to “strive for greater harmony in their communities”, the Pope added.
Again in his address to the monks, Francis returned to the subject of healing, which he had pointed to during the Mass just hours before, once more expressing his hope that Buddhists and Catholics might “walk together along this path of healing, and work side by side for the good of everyone who lives in this land”.
In this task of overcoming the consequences of conflict that have for decades stained the country with blood, the Catholic Church is “a willing partner”, the Pope assured them. Without forgetting, however, that “the great challenge of our day is to help people be open to the transcendent”. By working together to overcome all hostility, conscious of a consonance between the two religious traditions, both of which affirm the need to overcome evil with good.
And once again, for the third time, the Pope spoke of healing in his discourse to the Bishops, in which he added another two words: accompaniment and prophecy. He encouraged them to be witnesses to the Gospel, and to accompany the flock by bearing “the smell of the sheep”, as he often says, but also the “smell of God”. Without forgetting that a Bishop’s first task is prayer.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 21, 2018
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