Pope Francis visited Myanmar last November 27-30, 2017. Of the nearly 60 million population, less than one percent is Catholic and most of them who live in mountainous regions belong to diﬀerent ethnicities. On November 27 and November 28, many people came down to Yangon from diﬀerent states to hear the once-in-a-life-time mass with the pope in their own country. I joined this pilgrimage and we travelled with ﬁve mini buses arranged for by the parish. Our town is about a 10-hour drive from Yangon. We were over a hundred people travelling from Loikaw, my hometown. Along the whole journey, people ﬁlled with enthusiasm were singing prayers and hymns.
During our journey to Yangon, I was quite moved. Quite impressed to hear that the criteria to be his VIPs which states that people should be poor and have served the Church by their service and not by ﬁnancial means. I remember that passage from Magniﬁcat “All nations will now share my joy … He lifts the lowly high and ﬁlls the hungry with good things” and I felt this deeply in my heart. I believe everyone on this pilgrimage shared in the joy, too.
The ﬁrst Pope to visit Myanmar
Catholicism arrived in Myanmar 500 years ago. Pope Francis is the ﬁrst Pope to visit Myanmar. For the Catholic population, the coming of a Pope remained only in the realm of their dreams. It still seemed a dream when this news was broadcast in the media. From the moment the news was conﬁrmed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, his ﬂocks in the whole country prayed every day so that his visit would be a successful one, that God would bless his hands that were coming to bless the country. They believed that he would bring the message of peace, unity and reconciliation to and among this very people who had been suﬀering for the past 60 years. Conﬂict is what our people from the most remote ethnic groups are born into, and poverty is our brother.
As a humanitarian worker with displaced populations, I am required to visit many remote villages. Most of the people I see are very simple, hospitable and poor. I met Catholics during those trips and as I entered their houses, I would see the image of Pope Francis hanging on the wall. On the calendar they have at home or in the photo, Pope Francis is always smiling. This is the most they know about him. There is no electricity, no internet, no printed or digital news to read, no magazine or newspaper to reach their village. The villagers may have been displaced during periods of conﬂict or they may have been hosting displaced neighbors.
But I realize that their faith has not been displaced in all these years. They continue to believe in God who is love and to live as a population of love for one another through the support of the priests who frequently visit them or through the catechists in their village or nearby villages.
When we arrived at the Kyaikkasan ground, the whole area was already ﬁlled with people. I saw people making room for one another. The two hundred thousand people or so were amazingly disciplined, heeding instructions from organizers. The unity and serenity of thousands of people impressed many other non-Christian citizens and the event received much positive feedback from them on Facebook and other media. The choir of the Holy Mass was also quite harmonious and beautiful.
In his homily, the Holy Father cited the Book of Daniel (Dn 5:4), “They knew how to praise “gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone”, but they did not have the wisdom to praise God in whose hand is our life and breath”, I felt that God’s people in this very land tried to praise Him in their simplicity and generosity.
A message of peace and reconciliation
The Pope also told us that we had to remember the cruciﬁed Lord where we ﬁnd the wisdom that can guide our lives with the light that comes from God and from which healing comes. He reminded us that the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus. His message of peace and reconciliation is renewing our Christian spirit and inviting us to contribute even more towards a better Myanmar and bear witness that Love can work miracles for the populations, to heal their wounds and help them be reconciled with one another.
I realized how communitarian our people are by nature. With Christianity, solidarity is even stronger and more visible. The ﬂock or faraway sheep is still waiting for the light to break from the gray hills and I feel that many of them are still waiting. Every time I come back from the ﬁelds, I say in my heart, “we need a little more testimony, a little more light to enkindle the faith that has already been deposited in their hearts by our missionaries”.
And I think the presence of His Holiness among us is oﬀering that which we awaited as one of the signiﬁcant moments of testimony of the love of the Church embracing his people in person. Our faith has been renewed, the hope we have is revived, and love among us is more tangible. Our tears fell because of the great joy in our hearts.
I was so touched and moved by every single word he said more speciﬁcally when he said “I can see that the Church here is alive, and that Christ is alive here with you and with your brothers and sisters of other Christian communities”. We are those who have to do more to keep the Church alive, and to keep Christ alive from today onwards. I felt that a new daybreak has come for Myanmar.