On November 29, 2017, the third day of his visit to Myanmar, Pope Francis met with the monks of the Sangha Maha Nayaka State Committee, before whom he appealed for the healing of the country’s wounds, without being resigned in face of the challenges or isolated, but ensuring “that each voice be heard.”
The Pope left the Archbishopric of Yangon, where he is residing, and went by car to the Kaba Aye Center, one of the most venerated Buddhist temples of South East Asia. The Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture, Thura U Aung Ko received him on his arrival at the Center. The Holy Father took off his shoes before entering the temple.
The meeting with the “Sangha” Supreme Council took place at 4:15 pm (19:45 Rome time), in a large hall of the complex. The monks of the State Committee of the Sangha Maha Nayaka represent the highest authority of the Buddhist clergy of the country, which is 88% Buddhist, <and was> created, designed and <is> entirely controlled by the Authorities, explained Eglises d’Asie, agency of the Foreign Missions of Paris. Founded in 1980 by the Military Junta then in power, the Central Committee is made up of 47 members representing the nine branches of Burmese Buddhism.
After the intervention of the President of the ‘Sangha” Committee, Bhaddanta Kumarabhivamsa, the Holy Father expressed his “esteem to all those in Myanmar that live according to the religious traditions of Buddhism.” “Through the teachings of Buddha and the zealous witness of such numerous monks and nuns, the people of this land were formed in the values of patience, of tolerance and of respect for life, as well as in a spirituality <that is> attentive to our natural environment and profoundly respectful of it.”
“Our meeting is an important occasion to renew and reinforce the bonds of friendship and respect between Buddhists and Catholics. It’s also an opportunity to affirm our engagement for peace, respect for human dignity and justice for every man and every woman,” stressed the Pontiff.
“Not only in Myanmar but also in the whole world, people are in need of this common witness on the part of religious leaders,” he continued. It’s about helping “Buddhists, Catholics and all people to fight for greater harmony in their communities.”
Buddha and Saint Francis
“We must never be resigned” or “remain isolated from one another,” encouraged the Pope, appealing to “heal the wounds of conflicts that in the course of the years have divided people of different cultures, ethnic groups and religious convictions: to “surmount all forms of incomprehension, intolerance, prejudice and hatred.” Authentic justice and durable peace can only be attained when they are guaranteed to all,” he stressed.
To accomplish this, Francis quoted words of Buddha: “Eliminate anger with the absence of anger, overcome the evildoer with goodness, take down the avaricious with generosity, overcome the liar with the truth” (Dhammapada, XVII, 223). And those of Saint Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury pardon . . . where there is darkness light, and where there is sadness joy.”
“It is the particular responsibility of civil and religious leaders to ensure that each voice is heard so that the challenges and the needs of the moment can be clearly understood and addressed in a spirit of impartiality and reciprocal solidarity,” he concluded.
Dove of Peace
At the end of the meeting, during the traditional exchange of gifts, Pope Francis offered the sculpture of a “Dove of Peace,” white, in the aerodynamic forms augmented by the use of materials based on magnesium. The author wanted to highlight that the “wings” deployed lead to peace.
Considered in extra-biblical cultures as the particular symbol of divinities of love, the dove expresses for Christians God’s “merciful” love for humanity.” A symbol “dear to Pope Francis who, since the beginning of his pontificate has worked for the renewal of relations of peace among all the nations.” Two ribbons held in the dove’s beak highlight this wish.
The Holy Father then returned to the Archbishopric for the meeting with the Bishops. On the way he was to tour, in the pope-mobile, the Square of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester
The Holy Father’s Remarks
It is a great joy for me to be with you. I thank the Most Venerable Bhaddanta Dr. Kumarabhivamsa, Chairman of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, for his words of welcome and for his efforts in organizing my visit here today. In greeting all of you, I express my particular appreciation for the presence of His Excellency Thura Aung Ko, Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture.
Our meeting is an important occasion to renew and strengthen the bonds of friendship and respect between Buddhists and Catholics. It is also an opportunity for us to affirm a commitment to peace, respect for human dignity and justice for every man and woman. Not only in Myanmar, but also throughout the world, people need this common witness by religious leaders. For when we speak with one voice in affirming the timeless values of justice, peace and the fundamental dignity of each human person, we offer a word of hope. We help Buddhists, Catholics and all people to strive for greater harmony in their communities.
In every age, humanity experiences injustices, moments of conflict and inequality among peoples. In our own day, these difficulties seem to be especially pronounced. Even though society has made great progress technologically, and people throughout the world are increasingly aware of their common humanity and destiny, the wounds of conflict, poverty, and oppression persist, and create new divisions. In the face of these challenges, we must never grow resigned. For on the basis of our respective spiritual traditions, we know that there is a way forward, a way that leads to healing, mutual understanding, and respect. A way based on compassion and loving-kindness.
I express my esteem for the all those in Myanmar who live in accord with the religious traditions of Buddhism. Through the teachings of the Buddha, and the dedicated witness of so many monks and nuns, the people of this land have been formed in the values of patience, tolerance and respect for life, as well as a spirituality attentive to, and deeply respectful of, our natural environment. As we know, these values are essential to the integral development of society, starting with its smallest but most essential unit, the family, and extending through the network of relationships that bring us together – relationships rooted in culture, ethnicity, and nationality, but ultimately in our common humanity. In a true culture of encounter, these values can strengthen our communities and help to bring much-needed light to wider society.
The great challenge of our day is to help people be open to the transcendent. To be able to look deep within and to know themselves in such a way as to see their interconnectedness with all people. To realize that we cannot be isolated from one another. If we are to be united, as is our purpose, we need to surmount all forms of misunderstanding, intolerance, prejudice, and hatred. How can we do this? The words of the Buddha offer each of us a guide: “Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth” (Dhammapada, XVII, 223). Similar sentiments are voiced in a prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, let me bring pardon… Where there is darkness, let me bring light, and where there is sadness, joy”.
May that wisdom continue to inspire every effort to foster patience and understanding, and to heal the wounds of conflict that through the years have divided people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious convictions. Such efforts are never solely the purview of religious leaders, nor are they the competence of the state alone. Rather, it is the whole of society, all those present within the community, who must share in the work of overcoming conflict and injustice. Yet it is the particular responsibility of civil and religious leaders to ensure that every voice be heard, so that the challenges and needs of this moment may be clearly understood and confronted in a spirit of fairness and mutual solidarity. I commend the ongoing work of the Panglong Peace Conference in this regard, and I pray that those guiding this effort may continue to promote greater participation by all who live in Myanmar. This will surely assist the work of advancing peace, security and a prosperity inclusive of everyone.
Indeed, if these efforts are to bear lasting fruit, greater cooperation between religious leaders will be required. In this, I want you to know that the Catholic Church is a willing partner. Opportunities for religious leaders to encounter one another and to dialogue are proving to be a notable element in the promotion of justice and peace in Myanmar. I am aware that in April of this year the Catholic Bishops’ Conference hosted a two-day peace meeting, at which leaders of the different religious communities took part, together with ambassadors and representatives of non-governmental agencies. Such gatherings are essential if we are to deepen our understanding of one another and affirm our interconnectedness and common destiny. Authentic justice and lasting peace can only be achieved when they are guaranteed for all.
Dear friends, may Buddhists and Catholics walk together along this path of healing, and work side by side for the good of everyone who lives in this land. In the Christian Scriptures, the Apostle Paul challenges his hearers to rejoice with those who rejoice, while weeping with those who weep (cf. Rom 12:15), humbly bearing one another’s burdens (cf. Gal 6:2). On behalf of my Catholic brothers and sisters, I express our readiness to continue walking with you and sowing seeds of peace and healing, compassion, and hope in this land.
Once more, I thank you for inviting me to be with you today. Upon all of you, I invoke the divine blessings of joy and peace.
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