Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has appealed to the people of Myanmar -- including the army, which staged a coup Feb. 1 -- to remain calm and to work for open lines of communication so democracy can prevail.
"When, in 2015, a peaceful transition to the elected government was effected by the army, that won the admiration of the world. Today, the world tries to understand what went wrong in the following years. Was there a lack of dialogue between the elected civilian authorities and the Tatmadaw?" he asked, using the official term for Myanmar's armed forces.
He said the world was shocked and angry when it heard the military in Myanmar staged a coup and detained top political leaders, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
"You all promised peace and genuine democracy," Cardinal Bo said, addressing himself to the military. "Democracy was the streak of hope for solving the problems of this once rich country. This time millions voted for democracy. Our people believe in peaceful transfer of power."
Noting that the military is once again promising democracy, he said that "Myanmar people are tired of empty promises," and the military would have to back its words with actions to regain people's trust. He suggested that they begin by freeing elected opposition leaders, writers, activists and young people. "They are not prisoners of war; they are prisoners of a democratic process. You promise democracy; start with releasing them."
The military declared a state of emergency and said Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year because the government had not acted on the military's claims of fraud in November's elections and because it allowed for an election despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Suu Kyi's ruling party had won a majority of the available parliamentary seats in that election. Military rule in Myanmar lasted from 1962 to 2011 before resuming again with the latest coup.
Cardinal Bo, president of Myanmar's bishops' conference and head of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, was visiting the northern state of Kachin for pastoral reasons during the coup. Catholic News Service obtained his Feb. 3 statement from Aid to the Church in Need.
Addressing himself to the people of Myanmar, Cardinal Bo told them: "I share deep fellowship with all of you in this moment as you grapple with the unexpected, shocking events that are unfolding in our country. I appeal to each one of you, stay calm, never fall victim to violence. We have shed enough blood. Let not any more blood be shed in this land."
Speaking to Suu Kyi, the cardinal told her she had "lived for our people, sacrificed your life for our people. You will be always the voice of our people."
"At the same time, I wish to confirm that this incident takes place due to lack of dialogue and communication and lack of acceptance of one another," he added. "Please listen to others."
He urged the international community not to place sanctions against his country, because they "risk collapsing the economy, throwing millions into poverty. Engaging the actors in reconciliation is the only path."
"I believe all the stakeholders in this country wish the best for our people," the cardinal said. "I write with prayers and hope that his great nation, this golden land of a graceful people will enter into global stage as a reconciled community of hope and peace. Let us solve all disputes through dialogue.
"Peace is possible. Peace is the only way. Democracy is the only light to that path," he added.