Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar : Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, on his apostolic visit to Myanmar on Tuesday, gave his first address to government leaders, diplomats and the country’s ruling elite – at the convention centre. Without referring directly to the Rohingya situation, the Pope said Myanmar should respect “each ethnicity and its identity” and called for “justice and respect for human rights”.
The Pope avoided using the term “Rohingya” during the address to the nation which was closely watched by the mainly Buddhist population of the country.
Before his address, Pope Francis attended an official welcome ceremony at the presidential palace hosted by the president and Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in the new capital city of Nay Pyi Taw .
At the presidential complex, Pope Francis met privately with both President Htin Kyav and Aung San Suu Kyi, officially the State Counsellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs, although most people here call her simply ‘The Lady’.
The Pope who is on a four-day visit to Myanmar had met military chief, General Min Aung Hlaing on Monday. During the meeting General Hlaing had said his country does not have any religious discrimination and the “military performs for the peace and stability of the country”.
Pope Francis also met with 17 leaders of Myanmar’s religious communities Tuesday morning, exhorting them that peace consists in unity in diversity, not in uniformity. The Pope met leaders of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic and other Christian communities at the Archbishop’s House in Yangon, at the start of his first full day of his Nov. 27-30 apostolic visit to Myanmar.
The Holy See’s spokesman, Greg Burke said that the during his 40-meeting with them, the Pope urged them to work together to rebuild the country and that if they argue, they should argue like brothers, who reconcile afterwards.
Unity is not uniformity
After various leaders spoke, Pope Francis spoke off-hand in Spanish helped by an interpreter. Alluding to the Psalms, he said, “ How beautiful it is to see brothers united!” He explained that being united does not mean being equal. “Unity is not uniformity, even within a religious community.
Each one has his values, his riches as also shortcomings,” the Pope said, adding, “we are all different.” Each confession has its riches and traditions to give and share. And this can happen only if all live in peace. “Peace,” the Pope stressed, “consists in a chorus of differences.” “Unity comes about in differences.”
“Peace is harmony,” the Pope said, noting that there is a trend in the world towards uniformity to make everybody equal. But he denounced this as a “cultural colonization” that “kills humanity.” He said religious leaders should understand the richness of our differences – ethnic, religious or popular – and what results from these differences is dialogue. “As brothers, we can learn from these differences,” the Pope stressed, exhorting the religious leaders to “build the country, which is so rich and diverse even geographically.”
Nature in Myanmar is very rich in differences, the Pope said, urging them not be afraid of differences. “Since we have one Father and we are all brothers, let us be brothers,” the Pope urged. And if they have to debate among themselves, let it be as brothers, which will soon bring about reconciliation and peace. “Build peace without making allowing yourselves be uniformed by the colonization of cultures,” the Pope appealed. “One builds true divine harmony through differences. Differences are a richness for peace,” the Pope added.
When Pope Francis met on Tuesday with the President of the Republic of Myanmar, Mr Htin Kyaw, the two leaders exchanged gifts.
Pope Francis presented President Htin Kyaw with a manuscript, depicting the life of Buddha, the primary figure of the Buddhist religion.
The manuscript features six scenes from the life of Buddha: the conversion of individuals, including King Bimisara, to the teaching of Buddha; the conversion of entire cities; and Buddha’s own stay in the city of Rajagaha are all depicted.
The custom of giving diplomatic gifts can be traced back as far as the 8th century.
Initially, kings used the gifts to indicate their military and technological supremacy over those to whom the gifts were presented.
In modern times, however, the gifts are largely symbolic, aimed at highlighting the friendship between the respective leaders.
Pope Francis met on Wednesday afternoon with Myanmar’s Supreme Council of Buddhist monks, as well as with the country’s Minister for Religious Affairs.
There are about half a million monks in the country today, plus over 60.000 Buddhist nuns, often seen with shaved heads and pink robes, collecting money or uncooked rice in metal alms bowls.
Myanmar is an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation. Golden gates and pointed domes, rise up out of the landscape and monks, in their simple maroon or brown robes, are everywhere to be seen.
According to the statistics, almost 90 percent of people belong to this faith, with monks, collectively known as the Sangha, revered as highly respected members of society. Outwardly, it’s a deeply religious country, yet according to Ketu Mala, a well-known Burmese nun I met, there’s an urgent need for reform within this very traditional, patriarchal society.