Vastavam web: Pope Francis urged Myanmar’s long- suffering ethnic minorities to resist the temptation to exact revenge for the hurt they have endured, preaching a message of forgiveness today to a huge crowd in his first public Mass in the predominantly Buddhist nation.Local authorities estimated that about 150,000 people turned out at Yangon’s Kyaikkasan Ground park for the Mass, but the crowd seemed far larger and included faithful bearing flags from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, among other places.His trip has been overshadowed, though, by Myanmar’s military operations targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state. The crackdown, which has been described by the UN as a campaign of “textbook ethnic cleansing,” has drawn international condemnation.
In his first public comments yesterday, Francis told Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other government authorities that the country’s future lay in respecting the rights of all its people, “none excluded”, but he refrained from mentioning the Rohingya by name.”I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible,” Francis told the crowd in Italian that was translated into Burmese. Although he said the temptation is to respond with revenge, he urged a response of “forgiveness and compassion.”
“The way of revenge is not the way of Jesus,” he said, speaking from an altar erected on a traditional Buddhist-style stage.The Catholic Church has strongly backed the Suu Kyi government’s efforts to negotiate a peace, and a prayer read out in the Karen language during the Mass referred directly to the initiative.”For the leaders of Myanmar, that they may always foster peace and reconciliation through dialogue and understanding, thus promoting an end to the conflict in the states of Kachin, Rakhine and Shan, we pray to the Lord,” read the prayer.
Before Mass, Francis looped around the park in his open- sided popemobile, waving to the flag-waving crowds that continued to pour in as the service began.Despite the high humidity, the scene at the park was joyous and pious, with many women covering their heads with lace veils.”I can’t express how happy I am,” said Henery Thaw Zin, a 57-year-old ethnic Karen from Hinthada, a four-hour drive from Yangon. “I can’t imagine, or can’t expect to get a chance like this again, not just in this life, but in my next life as well.”
One group of 50 Catholics, dressed in traditional Vietnamese garb and conical straw hats, came from Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, for the Mass. “I hope one day soon the pope will visit my country,” said Nguyen Thi Hahn.Later today, in a meeting with Myanmar’s senior Buddhist monks, Francis called for religious leaders to speak with one voice affirming their commitment to peace and respect for justice and dignity for all people.
“If we are to be united, as is our purpose, we need to surmount all forms of misunderstanding, intolerance, prejudice and hatred,” Francis told the Sangha council, a committee of high-ranking monks appointed by the government.Citing the teachings of both Buddha and his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, Francis said: “May that wisdom continue to foster patience and understanding and heal the wounds of conflict that through the years have divided people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious convictions.”