• Cardinal Bo with the Headmaster and representatives of CSW and ACN
  • Cardinal Bo, viewing the Collections
Chaplaincy & Services | Posted 23.05.2016

Burma’s Cardinal visits Stonyhurst

Burma’s first ever Cardinal, His Eminence Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, visited Stonyhurst on Saturday May 21st, and gave an informative and inspirational address to the pupils and staff of the College in St Peter’s Church. Cardinal Bo has long campaigned for human rights, religious freedom, inter-religious harmony, peace and justice in Burma, or Myanmar. He has been visiting the UK as a guest of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Missio, Aid to the Church in Need and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and will speak in Westminster on Wednesday May 25th.

Cardinal Bo began by stating that he had “a deep appreciation and respect for Jesuit scholarship and learning, and a recognition that Jesuits are the best educators in the world….You are the future of your community, your country and the world,” he said, “ and I hope you will play your part in shaping a better future for your generation.”

Cardinal Bo then outlined the history of his country. After gaining  independence in 1948, a coup d’etat in 1962 resulted in half a century of destructive military rule, and a long struggle for democracy. Last November saw the country’s first credible elections, when Aung San Suu Kyi led her party to an overwhelming victory after over 15 years of house arrest.

A new government took power in March, but despite winning a huge mandate from the people, the new government is heavily constrained. Aung San Suu Kyi is barred by the Constitution from becoming President; the military still control Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defence, and hold 25% of the seats in Parliament. “Our journey has not ended” he said; “we are simply entering into a new chapter in our continuing struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights, human dignity and peace.”

Myanmar faces formidable challenges: poverty, education (60% of children never finish primary school), human trafficking, drugs, protecting freedom of expression, constitutional reform, the economy, health care and a high maternal mortality rate. Myanmar is also the second biggest producer of opium in the world.

In the ‘rainbow-nation’ of Myanmar, Cardinal Bo said: “Among the biggest challenges are protecting freedom of religion or belief for all, and resolving ethnic conflict. We desperately need to work to defend rights without discrimination, to establish equal rights for all people in Myanmar, of every ethnicity and religion.”

Speaking of his country’s poverty, he said: “Go out to the villages and rural areas. Go out to the camps for internally displaced peoples. Or, even within the cities, visit a hospital or a school. And you will see the real Myanmar. A Myanmar of the poor, a Myanmar without adequate health care, a Myanmar which was once the “Rice Bowl” of Asia which boasted one of the most prestigious universities in South-East Asia wrecked by fifty years of corrupt and brutal military rule.”

Cardinal Bo said that the Catholic church is addressing these challenges, with the support of organisations like Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Aid to the Church in Need: “We are in the slums; we are in the camps for internally displaced people; we are working with our friends in the Buddhist and Muslim communities to promote inter-faith harmony; we are providing education, health care and livelihoods; we are advocating for our people.”

He concluded his address with this inspirational message to Stonyhurst’s pupils:

“As Aung San Suu Kyi has said, ‘please use your liberty to promote ours’. You, young people of Britain and of your different nations, have the future before you; and you have the opportunity, if you choose to take it, to make yourselves available to God, to open your hearts to His Spirit, to place yourselves in His hands and then, together with Him, to make this world a better place. In the words of my episcopal motto, and the words of Philippians 4:13 – “Omnia possum in eo” – we can do all things in Him who strengthens us.”

Cardinal Bo’s Address