Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon. / Archdiocese of Yangon.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo committed Wednesday to ongoing support for Burma’s protest movement, provided that it remains “non-violent and peaceful.”
In a statement issued by the archdiocese of Yangon on 24 March, the Burmese cardinal appealed to democracy protesters to “remain determined and disciplined in non-violence.”
“Heartbroken and frustrated by the violence that you face and by the rising death toll, you wonder if armed struggle may be the better response to the daily repression and brutality that you face. … However, I caution you from going down the part of violent struggle,” Cardinal Bo said.
“I appeal to you to be peaceful and strategic to avoid confrontation and loss of life. I continue to support and remain available for all non-violent and peaceful efforts and interventions. I am fully committed at all levels to reduce violence in the streets and for the protection of lives,” he said.
The archbishop of Yangon’s comments came the day after a seven-year-old girl was killed in the city of Mandalay amid the military crackdown on democracy activists and protesters. The girl, Khin Myo Chit, was shot after security forces kicked down the door of her house while conducting searches of houses in her neighbourhood, according to the BBC.
“I unconditionally condemn all acts of violence against unarmed civilians,” the cardinal said, while telling protesters that violent retaliation would likely only result in “greater violence.”
At least 164 people have been killed in the protests in Burma, which began in response to Burma’s military coup on 1 February. Local activist groups claim that the death toll exceeds 260.
“Myanmar’s struggle is already too long and bloody. There are no easy solutions. Hate cannot be dispelled by hate but only by love; darkness is never dispelled by darkness but only by light,” Bo said.
“The path of violent struggle will initially excite a section of the population but in the long-term, it will alienate the majority, losing all support and goodwill not only at home but also with the international community,” he said.
Bo is the first cardinal in the history of Burma, a country with a population of 54 million people bordering China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India.
Since his appointment as archbishop of Yangon, the former capital city, in 2003, he has emerged as a leading advocate for democracy in the country. He also serves as the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
Catholic cardinals and bishops in Asia expressed their support for Bo’s peace efforts in Burma in a statement signed on 19 March and published on 23 March.
“We, the Cardinals of Asia, join in making a fervent appeal to all concerned: the military, the politicians, the demonstrators, all religious leaders and the Church: PEACE, PEACE, PEACE. Peace is possible. Peace is necessary,” the statement said.
“And so to our dear brother Cardinal Bo we say: We are with you. We share your pain and anguish. We join you as you lead your people in prayer to God for a speedy resolution of the conflict, and for light to all to see the way towards a solution,” it said.
The statement was signed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Cardinal John Tong Hon, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, and nine other cardinals in Asia.
Protesters against the military coup in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, began a silent strike on 24 March, closing many businesses.
The cardinals asked for the Virgin Mary’s intercession for peace and freedom in the country.
“We pray to Mother Mary to whom the people of Myanmar and all of us have a special devotion. Mother, intercede for the people of Myanmar … Bring them back the peace they so much deserve and are crying out for. Guide them back to the path of freedom on which they were moving recently,” they said.