The Church and peace in Asia

Tuesday, during his visit to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Pope Francis addressed government officials. Some observers (safely in other lands) criticized the Holy Father for not speaking directly about the persecution of the Rohingya (Moslem) minority in that country, which has led to a refugee crisis in neighboring countries (especially poverty-stricken Bangladesh). The pope had been warned by Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that he needed to be delicate in dealing with this crisis, so as to not provoke further bloodshed (not that the pope’s telling the truth would morally justify the killing of innocent people in response, but that evil people often “blackmail” others into silence).

The pontiff began by mentioning our fellow Catholics. “I have come, above all, to pray with the nation’s small but fervent Catholic community, to confirm them in their faith, and to encourage them in their efforts to contribute to the good of the nation.” Myanmar is majority Buddhist, with a Christian population of 6.2 percent and a smaller Moslem population.

“I would also like my visit to embrace the entire population of Myanmar and to offer a word of encouragement to all those who are working to build a just, reconciled and inclusive social order. Myanmar[’s] greatest treasure is its people, who have suffered greatly, and continue to suffer, from civil conflict and hostilities that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions. As the nation now works to restore peace, the healing of those wounds must be a paramount political and Spiritual priority. I can only express appreciation for the efforts of the government to take up this challenge, especially through the Panglong Peace Conference, which brings together representatives of the various groups in an attempt to end violence, to build trust and to ensure respect for the rights of all who call this land their home.” In saying this, the Holy Father acknowledged the conflict and urged the Burmese to resolve it, for the good of everyone.

 “Indeed, the arduous process of peace building and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights. The wisdom of the ancients defined justice precisely as a steadfast will to give each person his due, while the prophets of old saw justice as the basis of all true and lasting peace.” Here Pope Francis was echoing the long-held Catholic teaching, which Blessed Paul VI summarized as, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

Pope Francis added, “The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group — none excluded — to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.” What the pope said here was a hint about the need to respect the minority groups in the country, including the Moslem population.

The pontiff continued, “Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation building. The religions can play a significant role in repairing the emotional, Spiritual and psychological wounds of those who have suffered in the years of conflict. [T]hey can help to uproot the causes of conflict, build bridges of dialogue, seek justice and be a prophetic voice for all who suffer. It is a great sign of hope that leaders of the various religious traditions in this country are making efforts to work together, in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect, for peace, for helping the poor and for educating in authentic religious and human values.”

Last Friday hundreds of Moslems were killed by other Moslems (the members of ISIS) in Egypt in a massacre at a mosque in the Sinai peninsula. This mass murder, evil in itself, also serves to promote the atheistic claim that religion always leads to war, while atheism supposedly leads to peace (e.g., John Lennon’s song, “Imagine”). The religious dimension to the conflict in Myanmar (Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” recently discussed the stereotype of peaceful Buddhists being destroyed by radical Buddhists directing and supporting the killing and expulsion of the Moslem population) also furthers the atheistic narrative. 

However, atheists throughout history have killed countless people (just look at the millions killed by the Communist regimes in the last 100 years, since the “triumph” of the Russian Revolution in 1917), putting the lie to the claim that “if you get rid of religion, you’ll get rid of war.”

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said in May, “I believe in God but I do not believe in religion, period.” Earlier he attacked the Catholic Church, which he claimed cowed its members by using fear of hell. He said, “Be careful about religion, it is about gold.” He has used strong swears (inappropriate to use in this newspaper) to threaten the leaders of the Church.

Duterte also throws back at the Church the sexual abuse scandals when we criticize his extra-judicial killings of thousands of supposed drug dealers or users. “You criticize the police, you criticize me. For what? You have the money. You are all crazy — when we were making Confessions to you, we were being molested. They are touching us. What is your moral ascendancy, religion? What is the meaning of it?”

Duterte’s vile criticisms do touch on an important point for us to remember. As we call other people to peace and justice, we always need to repent of our own lack of peace, of our own participation in injustice. As the Holy Father tries to advocate for peace and justice in Asia, we need to Spiritually enter into the desert (as Father Healey reminds us on page eight), so that we can hear the voice of the Lord (as Blessed Solanus Casey did — see page seven) and respond to it concretely, with our fellow Catholics and with all people, of any religion or no religion. May they “know we are Christians by our love,” as the old song says, and may that love help to bring peace to our world.

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