Media and Communications Office
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first and only cardinal, was the keynote speaker on Friday 15 June as the Newman College Helder Camara lecture series, supported by Catholic Mission, hosted a reflective seminar, 'Pope Francis’ First Five Years'. The seminar, held at Newman College, Parkville, examined and celebrated Pope Francis’ pastoral vision of mercy, justice, love and care for the planet.
Following an insightful opening from the college’s Pope Francis Fellow and the event’s host, Br Mark O’Connor FMS, the talk began with a one-on-one interview. His Eminence Cardinal Bo sat with Melbourne's Director of Catholic Mission, Kevin Meese, and discussed the resonance of the Holy Father’s mission and impact in Myanmar.
Cardinal Bo touched on the courage of Myanmar’s Catholics to speak out against human rights abuses in the country and referred to the importance of embracing his own responsibility as a Church leader.
‘Although we are very limited and a minority in Myanmar, as Catholics we are universally bigger and there is a larger perspective for us,’ he said. 'Because of that, we have a connection to the Vatican and the connectedness we have throughout the world gives us some respect.’
Throughout the latter stages of the twentieth century and continuing in Myanmar today, the Catholic Church has experienced a period of significant growth. The nation’s religious have seen a considerable rise in numbers and in 2018, 900 priests and more than 2000 sisters minister to Myanmar’s 700,000 Catholics. In 60 years, the nation has witnessed a 250 per cent increase in its Catholic population, with the number of dioceses growing from just two to 16.
Mr Meese quizzed the cardinal on how Myanmar’s Catholics draw on the Joy of the Gospels, given the hardships confronting the nation.
‘As a Salesian, some of the most important principles l hold are of joy and optimism,' explained Cardinal Bo. ‘In every circumstance, we are asked to maintain joy and optimism in our lives and Pope Francis constantly refers to having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.’
Central to Myanmar’s current turbulence is the ongoing crisis facing the Rohingya people. Cardinal Bo, an outspoken human rights advocate, underscored the importance of interfaith communication and highlighted the message of unity and peace Pope Francis preached during his visit to Myanmar in November 2017.
‘Islamophobia exists throughout the world. There is a fear in Myanmar that Islamisation will take place and some people have started preaching hate speech,’ explained Cardinal Bo.
‘Many young people have not been educated and are susceptible to hate speech through social media and smartphones,’ he warned, before turning his attention to the positivity that Pope Francis’ visit had offered.
‘The Pope’s visit came with love and peace. He spoke to the military, young people, religious leaders and monks, and always focussed on the message of love and peace in our country.’
‘Outside of Myanmar’s Church there has been little knowledge of interreligious dialogue but, since Vatican II, we have been trained to focus on interreligious dialogue. It’s very necessary and we try to encourage religious leaders to work towards peace,’ said Cardinal Bo.
The event’s subsequent speakers explored a variety of topics. They included Fr Frank Moloney SDB, Senior Professorial Fellow at Catholic Theological College, East Melbourne, who reflected on how Pope Francis has a dynamic understanding of the Word of God and preaches powerfully the joy of the Gospel, refreshing many contemporary hearts. Julie Edwards, CEO of Jesuit Social Services, highlighted the plight of refugees throughout the world and reflected on the importance of Pope Francis’ first papal visit to Lampedusa in 2013. She was followed by Fr Bruce Duncan CSsR, who drew upon the Holy Father's willingness to engage with economic experts and his commitment to critiquing multi-national corporations. Sr Anne Boyd, editor of Earth Song Journal, also took to the lectern and focussed on Laudato si' and the need for communities to mirror Pope Francis’ efforts towards caring for the Earth.