Still reeling from a military coup nearly a week ago, the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar saw massive protests in major cities throughout the country on Sunday. In the former capital, Yangon, and a dozen other cities, protestors called for the end of military rule and a return to democratic order.
Military leaders seized power in Myanmar on Monday, 1 Febrary 2021, after asserting fraud in elections last November. They declared a one-year state of emergency, and are currently ensconced in the capital city, Nay Pyi Daw.
Catholics in Myanmar kept a day of prayer and fasting this Sunday, after their bishops called them to the acts of devotion to implore peace in the wake of a military coup in the country last Monday.
In a statement issued Friday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar asked Catholics — a tiny minority in the mostly Buddhist nation of 53 million — to participate in an hour of adoration while keeping a fast.
On Wednesday of last week, the president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Charles Bo, called on the military to release the country’s de facto civilian leader, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since the military seized power last Monday.
“I urge you,” said Cardinal Bo, “respect their rights and release them at the earliest. They are not prisoners of war; they are prisoners of a democratic process. You promise democracy; start with releasing them,” Bo wrote on Feb. 3.
The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, offered words of support for Cardinal Bo’s message: “We support Cardinal Bo in his call for nonviolence, democracy and dialogue,” said Cardinal Nichols.
“At this critical moment,” Cardinal Nichols also said, “we join in prayer for peace, for the release of all political prisoners and for genuine reconciliation, recognizing the right of Myanmar’s people to determine their own future.”
World leaders were quick to condemn Monday’s coup as well, but Cardinal Bo’s message to the military brass in his country was also for them. He urged restraint and patience, noting that the military had handed over power once before — in 2015 — and in so doing earned “the admiration of the world” while sanctions and other international pressure have not availed much.
“These hard measures,” i.e. trade sanctions and the like, “have proved a great blessing to those superpowers that eye our resources,” Bo wrote. Keen observers noted that the line was a veiled reference to China, which supported the military leaders of Myanmar for decades, in exchange for favorable treatment in mineral trade.
“The cardinal was warning the West that if it acted rashly, the generals would return to the embrace of Beijing,” wrote Charles Collins for Crux.
Cardinal Bo also suggested Suu Kyi — who became a national heroine and international household name as a pro-democracy activist between 1989 and 2010, much of which time she spent under house arrest, receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991 — could do more to dialogue with the country’s military leadership.