1 REPORT ON PASTORAL VISIT TO MYANMAR / BURMA CARDINAL KEITH PATRICK O’BRIEN, MR PAUL CHITNIS, MR VAL MORGAN TH ST MONDAY 19 JANUARY – SATURDAY 31 JANUARY 2009 Tuesday 20 January 2009: th Our group departed from Scotland on Monday 19 January leaving London for Bangkok for th overnight travel before arriving in Bangkok on the afternoon of Tuesday 20 January 2009. We were met at the airport by Monsignor Mark Zalewski the First Councillor at the Apostolic Nunciature – and initially relaxed with the Apostolic Nuncio and his staff before preparing for dinner. The Apostolic Nuncio had a gathering of some 22 guests for dinner in the Nunciature warmly welcoming them all. Cardinal Michael Michai the Archbishop of Bangkok along with two bishops from Thailand were also guests at the dinner along with Monsignor Anthony Frontiero the Secretary from the Pontifical Council of Justice & Peace in Rome and Monsignor Andrew Thanya – Anan the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter Religious Dialogue in Rome. The Regional Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service along with the Country Director were also guests with us as well as representatives of St John’s University and the Assumption University. It was indeed a wonderful way of adjusting to Asia again and we received much useful information about what we might be seeing and the people whom we would be visiting in Myanmar. Wednesday 21 January 2009: st On Wednesday 21 January we departed from Bangkok being taken to the airport by Monsignor Denis the First Secretary at the Nunciature. After a journey of approximately one hour we were met at the airport in Yangon by Archbishop Paul Grawng, the President of the Bishops Conference of Myanmar, along with another two bishops – and taken to the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar. After welcome and a welcoming Mass initially we met the coordinator of the Spirit and Education Movement (SEM) an organisation supported by SCIAF responsible for leadership training in communities; and following on lunch we met with the bishops, priests and sisters in the CPCM Conference room who again gave us much background information about the situation in Myanmar. st In the evening of Wednesday 21 January we travelled to the residence of the British Ambassador to Myanmar, Mr Mark Canning. Although the Ambassador had only been over two years in Myanmar he had a very great grasp of the situation and spoke to us of his ongoing links with the Government of Myanmar, particularly in the new Capital City of Myanmar. He spoke of the ongoing British aid – not only with regard to the Cyclone Nargis but the various helps which the British Government had and was continuing to give helping the poverty stricken areas of the vast country. 2 Thursday 22 January 2009: nd On the morning of Thursday 22 January we met with various victims of Cyclone Nargis at the Bishops Conference headquarters in Yangon. This meeting had been arranged and was very well organised by “Karuna” the Myanmar equivalent of SCIAF – basically Caritas – Myanmar. After some introductory information about Cyclone Nargis and the way in which it had spread in Myanmar we listened to a number of testimonies from survivors of the Cyclone. This proved to be rather harrowing as survivors spoke of the deaths of close friends and sometimes all of the members of their families while they had survived. They spoke in their own simple language which was translated in to English for us. There were quite a few tears from the survivors – some very young who told of the disastrous effects of the Cyclone on them and on their families. I include a few direct quotations from what was said: nd “There was a radio warning about 3.00 pm on 2 May last year – we left our houses – at 7.00 pm the waters rose and were covering our houses – at 1.00 am the waters were so high there was no place to cling to – at 4.00 am as dawn broke the next morning I looked for my family but there was nothing left where I had lived!” “I am here in this City of Rangoon for the first time to tell my story. As the waters rose I expected to die – I was thinking of God all the time – if I was to die then I said God, let it be quick – I was thrown into the sea and out onto an island – I tried to go back to my own place – it took four days and I met so many others in the same situation – I got to my own village – I tries to find at least one member of my family but the eight of them had died – I lost all and did not even recognise the body of any one of them – I have no hope left”. “The winds rose at 2.00 pm and my family were at home – I went out to get the nets – trees fell and my house was crushed – I went to the church but the waters rose up very quickly – I first got to my knees – little children were put in a small boat but it capsized – then the church collapsed – I floated away but managed to climb on to a tree – I stayed in the water for the whole night – I then went to a house where I saw some light – I later found that both my parents had died along with all of my family –only my brother and I are left our of eight – there were dead bodies all around”. “We lived outside the village – it was dark and raining – my wife woke me up because of the winds and rain – we went on to higher ground where the buffalo were kept and took my wife and child there and tired to escape we ran but it was very dark – I put my wife and child on a haystack and prayed over them – the haystack was blown away and we were all hit by the water – the wind was coming at us from all angles and we were thrown into the water – my wife was taken away with the waters because I could not hold on to her – I tried to walk through the water with my son on my shoulders but he slipped away and I lost him to – I thought of suicide as I could not find any one – I saw a coconut branch in the water and clung to it – I was rescued but was very cold – I floated to the village and was safe but I did not know what to do as I had lost both my wife and my child”. Such stories told in their own words by these survivors were indeed immensely moving made all the more so because of the way in which the survivors greeted us personally. I felt it was so humbling giving these wonderful people a little souvenir prayer card – but one of the survivors said to me: “This is one of the proudest moments of my life; I never thought that I would ever meet a Cardinal!” 3 Following on listening to the survivors we then listened to the accounts of some of the helpers and trainers of those who did survive helping them to cope with their lives now. Again, there were accounts of some very brave and wonderful people who had given up their careers and their livelihoods to work to help others. They stressed that now they were aware of their own responsibilities to other people and that “unity” was very important in their townships and villages. They needed the participation of each and every villager to try to rebuild their lives. One person said: “We do not have machinery but we have ourselves!” Another said: “It gives us joy to help people work together for their future”. They simply asked of us: “Help us to reinvest in our villages!” We ask ourselves and our villagers: “Who are the most vulnerable in our village and how can we help them”. They went on to stress that there is very great sharing now – of the basics of life – water, food, clothes – in a situation which no one had ever experienced before. They did stress that in their example of sharing they needed ongoing help. After a full morning listening to victims and listening to survivors and those who were helping them we joined them for lunch as the sharing continued after lunch as well. We left the Bishops’ Conference headquarters about 4.00 pm to journey to St Mary’s Cathedral where I was to lead the celebration of Mass – with my homily being translated from English into Kachin, the local language. There was a great buzz of excitement around the Cathedral with the Mass beginning promptly at 5.00 pm concelebrated by myself, the two archbishops and four other bishops with about sixty priests and a packed congregation in the very beautiful St Mary’s Cathedral in Yangon which will be celebrating its centenary in 2011. About 100 of the senior seminarians were present at the Mass and led the singing along with the many religious sisters. It was indeed a great display of the faith of the people of Yangon – despite their difficulties and the recent disasters. I myself preached the Mass with my homily being translated into the Burmese language. After the Mass the crowds pushed around me eager to kiss my ring, shake my hand or asking me to bless their families, rosary beads etc. A welcome dinner followed at Archbishop’s House where there was also an exchange of gifts – before we returned home quite tired to the residence of the Bishops Conference. Friday 23 January 2009: rd On the morning of Friday 23 January we flew to Myitkyina to begin our programme of visits there. The initial celebration in the Cathedral was very formal – but gradually because of the singing and greeting of the people became much less formal. The opening hymn contained the word “welcome” sung five times – and I included my own address to the people by singing the word “happy” five times! Bishop Francis Daw Tang and his priests, religious and people were indeed most welcoming to me and certainly made me feel happy to be in their diocese. 4 After the formal greeting in the Cathedral along with my colleagues from SCIAF we met with the Karuna (Caritas) staff for a very interesting discussion. After our evening meal there was a considerable amount of cultural entertainment in the diocesan hall preparing us for what lay ahead! Saturday 24 January 2009: th On Saturday 24 January we began our day with a concelebrated Mass in the house chapel at the priests accommodation at 7.00 am at which I was principal celebrant and then addressed the priests together. At the end of the Mass there was the opportunity of meeting each of the priests individually having received a brief description of them and their work from Father Joseph the Chancellor of the Archdiocese. After breakfast we left the Capital to go to a development project site in a place call Gatshang Yang. It was indeed a very informative meeting with people who had been involved in the development project for some years and were very competently able to speak of the development and how it had helped their area. Some members of the Army were present – while not objectionable in any way their presence did give an added “atmosphere” to what would otherwise have been a very happy and fruitful celebration. After the input concerning the development project we journeyed to various practical aspects of the programme in different parts of the area – meeting a considerable number of people in their homes and learning how the project had indeed helped them. Following on this we adjourned to the Cathedral House for lunch. Our first visit in the afternoon was to the St Francis Xavier Orphanage about 45 minutes journey from where we were staying. It was very moving seeing almost 200 orphans approximately half male and female under the very attentive care of the Sisters of St Francis Xavier and a very competent lay staff. The children performed for us various cultural dances and songs showing something of their ethnic background – and reports were given to us as to how the school at the Orphanage was hoping to develop in the years which lie ahead. We then journeyed on to St Patrick’s Intermediate Seminary nearby – one could describe this as a college for late vocations who hoped to begin their philosophy and theological subjects when they had the required certificates. There was a very fine group of about 25 young men with three priests directing the community and a number of lay women and lay men giving their own particular input in academic subjects. Again I had the opportunity of addressing the young men at the seminary speaking to them of my own journey to the Priesthood and hopefully inspiring them to continue on their journeys whatever obstacles were put in their way. We then visited St Patrick’s Parish Church within the Capital itself arriving about 6.30 pm where the crowd had been gathering from about 3.00 pm. Father Gregory, the Parish Priest, had assembled the waiting crowds who filled the very large church to capacity. Various presentations and addressed were made before most of the large congregation adjourned to the parish hall for further cultural events and presentation of souvenirs before a magnificent dinner was served prepared by the Parish. 5 Following on this we all adjourned back to the Priests residence in Myitkyina to prepare for the following day and the Sunday Mass at 8.00 am. Sunday 25 January 2009: th On the Sunday morning 25 January the whole area was a hive of activity from the evening before. The Mass was due to begin at 8.00 am but from an early hour it was already crowded. The expanses of ground on either side of the Cathedral were also crowded with people eagerly awaiting the celebration of Mass. The Mass was the Mass of the Sunday concelebrated by Bishop Francis and myself and a considerable number of the local priests who were able to leave their people. During the Mss I spoke of the aid given to Myanmar by Scotland long before Cyclone Nargis – but I also reminded the people of Myanmar of their vocation to reach out to those in need also. The Gospel was most appropriate – the call of the Apostles – and I reminded them not only of the call of priests and religious sisters but of the way in which Pope Benedict XVI had congratulated the bishops of Myanmar on the ways in which the lay faithful of the country had responded to their particular vocation to reach out and hand on the Christian message to those in need particularly those who were suffering in any way. I used the words of Archbishop Bo the Secretary General of the Bishops Conference following on Cyclone Nargis when he spoke of the Buddhists virtues of Metta and Karuna – mercy and compassion – indicating that these words had taken root in the people of Myanmar at the time of the Cyclone. I went on to add that they had taken particular root in the people of Myanmar quite simply because of the fact that The Word of God had taken root in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary 2000 years ago – and it was that Word which we shared in our Masses and in Holy Communion Sunday by Sunday. At the end of the Mass very beautiful gifts were given to my colleagues from SCIAF and myself including the traditional dress and sword of the Katchin people as well as beautiful gold rings with a jade stone set in them. At the end of the Mass I was taken on what could only be described as a triumphal procession through the crowds blessing the people along the way until I reached the priests house once more. After only a short rest we were taken to visit St Columban’s Minor Seminary nearby where there were approximately 50 young men preparing for entry into senior seminary. The seminary had been established in 1965 by the Columban Fathers and since then more than 900 students had been trained in this seminary, 52 of them already having been ordained priests and 17 of them studying in the major seminary of theology, philosophy and the spiritual year. The former seminarians remain loyal and have their own organisation making annual retreats and having meetings conducted by their chaplain – and consequently the junior seminary has fulfilled a valuable role in the lives of the lay faithful of the diocese also. After lunch we continued our visits initially to the HIV/Aids Clinic before moving on to the St Luke’s Catechetical Centre in a place called “Eden”. 6 Our visit to the HIV/AIDS Respite Centre was indeed very moving – situated as it was on the outskirts of Myitkyina. We had the opportunity of meeting the staff in charge as well as about 20 residents in the Hope Centre all at various stages of their illness. On speaking to them with the help of an interpreter they were more than grateful for the help and support which they were receiving from the Centre. They were of a variety of different faiths but all were happy to pray with me and to receive my blessing. In a short discussion afterwards when I asked where would these residents have gone if not to this Hope Centre one man very bluntly replied “to the graveyard”. We then moved on to the St Luke’s Catechetical Institute founded in 1965 to cater for the catechetical needs of the diocese and as well preparing people to be catechists in nearby India as well as in China. Tremendous work seems to have been done from this Centre over the years since its foundation – presenting a great challenge to both teachers and pupils and allowing them to be formed not just in the teaching of Jesus Christ but in the ways in which he himself handed on his teaching. The last stop of the day was at the Provincial House of the St Francis Xavier’s Sisters on the outskirts of Myitkyina where there was a presentation and a dinner offered by the Religious Association of Myitkyina. The evening had been highly organised by the religious sisters and the few religious men – with the history of the Religious Association of Myitkyina being given as well as the Religious Association Banmaw a neighbouring diocese with the local bishop, Bishop Raymond also being present. Sharings were given by members of each of ten organisations before an address by myself following on a gift presentation of a traditional jacket before we all adjourned for supper together. The meal was a very joyful event with the sisters obviously evidently very happy at being together and being in the presence of a Cardinal and their two Bishops. Following on this we returned home to the priests house where we were staying in Myitkyina before retiring for the evening. Monday 26 January 2009: th On Monday 26 January we concelebrated Mass at the chapel in the priests house at 7.30 am before the work of the day began. After breakfast our first meeting was with the local team of Karuna (Caritas) Myitkyina. It was fascinating listening to the reports from various parts of the Archdiocese in various areas in which Myitkyina Karuna was operating. Bishop Raymond Sumbut Gam, the recently appointed Bishop of Banmaw, joined us for the meetings and addressed us separately talking about the work in his own diocese. After lunch we were taken to a community in St Joseph’s Parish where there was a development project in the parish under the name of Waing Maw. We were received with the usual pomp into the parish and formal addresses were given before the people spoke very openly of the loss of their land most often by simply forced occupation or payment at a nominal cost. They were hoping to develop a project involving fifteen of the families which would enable them to reclaim their land at a fair price and be fully involved in the development so that they would have a living wage for themselves and their families. Enthusiastic 7 questioning followed on a presentation – after which I spoke of the Church’s basic social teaching on the right to life; the right to a living wage; the right of women and men to be equal; and the right of objections such as were taking place to be made to the proper authorities. I also spoke of the need to involve other countries if necessary in disputes – although I indicated that often illegitimate rumours did not listen to the international community. On returning to the Diocesan Centre we had our usual evening meal together before the Bishop invited myself, Paul Chitnis and Val Morgan to join the priests for a relaxing evening when we could talk informally about issues which were of interest to us. Tuesday 27 January 2009: th On the morning of Tuesday 27 January we journeyed to a community on the outskirts of the City where a chapel of ease had been built and was due to be opened under the title of St John the Evangelist. As always a great crowd had assembled with the Bishop leading the ceremony and I myself presiding and concelebrating the Mass there. Many of the people in this area had to travel from the hills nearby in to Mass on Sunday and consequently were more than pleased to have a chapel within easier reach served from the Cathedral Parish itself. Following on our farewell lunch a great variety of photographs were taken and fond farewells made before we departed for the airport to fly to Mandalay. We arrived shortly before 5.00 pm at Mandalay with Archbishop Paul Grawng greeting us with some of his priests and then we moved to the Sacred Heart Cathedral for a very Solemn Mass, with the Archbishop and Bishop Philip of the Diocese of Lashio concelebrating with myself, the priests of the diocese and a very large congregation including the religious sisters of the diocese. Again I spoke of the role of the Church in Myanmar at this present time and the need for the Church to assert itself as well as possible. At the end of the Mass I received the customary gifts – and then I was seated in front of the Altar rails so that everyone in the congregation could come forward to greet me and receive my blessing. This was followed by a dinner in the cathedral House with all of the priests of the diocese and the bishops. Wednesday 28 January 2009: th On the morning of Wednesday 28 January initially we went to the neighbouring St Joseph’s Church for the opening of their parish hall at 7.15 am. This is not the normal sort of time one would open a parish hall in any of our parishes in Scotland – but it was chosen so that I could be present for this official opening. Following on that we moved to St Thomas’ PreMajor Seminary in Mandalay itself for breakfast and then a meeting with the students – numbering about seventy. The seminary was what we might call a college for late vocations preparing young men of reasonable academic ability for entry in to major seminary. They gave an address to me and then four major submissions were made on various points of interest to the students. I was then asked to give them some words of “encouragement” – which I also made words of challenging. I was more than impressed of calibre of the young men in the seminary and shared my thoughts with Archbishop Paul. We then moved to the airport once more to fly back to Yangon – where we happily met some other Columban Fathers who were staying there for a relatively short time before moving elsewhere in the country. 8 Thursday 29 January 2009: th On Thursday 29 January 2009 after an early Mass and breakfast we departed from the centre for a visit to suburban Yangon in order to visit some of the areas devastated by Hurricane Nargis. We saw some extremely poor areas where the people had literally next to nothing either to live on at this present moment or to plan for the future. We were accompanied by Father Noel a priest of the Archdiocese who had been given specific responsibility for an area in suburban Yangon which as yet did not have a parish name. The church in which they had worshipped for a number of years was not recognised as such by the local authorities and consequently a permit had to be obtained from such authorities for any time they wished to use the church building for worship. We were received with as much love accompanied by pomp and ceremony, as if we had been visiting a Cathedral to be greeted by this little church full of people who virtually already had nothing when Cyclone Nargis hit them. It was wonderful listening to some of the accounts of how they had survived and how they were trying to build up their community. One lady who gave testimony indicated that the community had started with just some five Catholics a number of years ago and now despite the cyclone had grown so much. I used this as the basis of my own words to them indicating what Jesus himself did with but five loaves along with the two fishes. I indicated that Archbishop Charles and Father Noel really represented one of the fish with regard to their community while Karuna, Scotland and other aid agencies represented the other fish – both working with the five loaves to effect a wonderful transformation in the area. It was very moving being with this community and at the end I gave my blessing as usual and was available for everyone to receive an individual blessing before being asked to plant a commemorative tree. We then returned to our headquarters at the Bishops Conference where I had the pleasure of some interesting conversations with the retired bishop of the Diocese of Pathein, Bishop Joseph Mahn Erie. The Bishop lived in retirement at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar where we were staying; he had been appointed Bishop of Pathein in 1968 and retired as th Bishop in 1982. He was celebrating the 40 anniversary of his ordination as Bishop and was one of the four first bishops ever to leave Myanmar to pay an Ad Limina visit to Pope John Paul II in Rome. The Bishop now 84 years of age had seen a variety of regimes governing his country and he seemed to have had no time for any of them. However his faith was strong and he told some wonderful stories. He gave me a copy of his “spiritual notebook” and was looking for help with regard to his next publication on “The Holy Rosary”. Friday 30 January 2009: th On the morning of Friday 30 January while Paul and Val were involved in ongoing discussions about the work of SCIAF (Caritas Scotland) in Myanmar I was taken on a visit to the National Senior Seminary in Yangon. I set off for St Joseph’s Catholic Major Seminary situated some thirty minutes from the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar – with the Rector of the Senior Major Seminary being Father Henry Eikhlein. Initially I received the usual very formal welcome – but was greeted by a flute band and drums played by the student body. It has indeed a proud record of ordinations to the priesthood. Various 9 earlier attempts at preparing young men for ordination to the Priesthood led to the seminarians eventually to the general college in Penang, Malaysia – but this later became impossible. th It was on 17 March 1958 that Father Joseph Murphy SJ arrived in Myanmar to head the staff of the seminary with the regional seminary offering a three year course in philosophy and a four year rd course in theology. However, on 23 March 1966 the Myanmar Government issued a decree for the expulsion of 232 Catholic missionaries including the major seminary staff. In all 68 major seminarians studied under the Jesuit Fathers of whom 41 became priests. It was then that the local clergy had to undertake the formation of their own priests – and th eventually on 17 January 1984 the philosophy and the theology seminaries were officially established as two independent major seminaries each with its own rector and staff members. The St Joseph’s Theological Seminary celebrated its golden jubilee in 2007 – and has gone to provide a wonderful service to the whole country of Myanmar. At this present time the seminary has 159 seminarians coming from all of the fifteen dioceses of Myanmar under the care of twelve residential formatters and three visiting professors. From 1957 to 2009 the major seminary has had 729 Alumni priests – with 18 of these eventually being consecrated diocesan bishops. After formal addresses being made by the rector and then by a student on behalf of the student body I myself addressed then all and then was able to take part in a very informal gathering with staff and students: I had my photograph taken with a group of the rector and all of the members of staff; and then each of the 159 students had their photograph taken individually with me apart from three sets of brothers among the student body, who were photographed together with me. It was a privilege meeting such a fine group of young men preparing for the Priesthood. At the conclusion of the celebrations in the seminary I moved on to the national offices of Karuna Myanmar Social Services where the National Director, Joseph Hang Khanpau, and his staff were meeting with Paul Chitnis and Val Morgan while I had been at the seminary. I listened for some time to the final discussions before giving my own words of exhortation and then my blessing to all present. It was indeed a fitting conclusion to a very happy and fruitful visit to Myanmar – before our departure from Yangon that same day and our return to Edinburgh, via Bangkok in Thailand, and then on to London and then Scotland.