Myanmar Catholics voice support for Suu Kyi

Archbishop calls her 'the only credible person for the leadership'

Myanmar Catholics voice support for Suu Kyi

Picture: Vatican Insider/La Stampa

Paolo Affatato for Vatican Insider/La Stampa, Myanmar

August 13, 2014

It was partly thanks to her encounter with Pope Francis that she found the strength and inner peace to face one of the most important battles of her life. For Aung San Suu Kyi - the 67-year-old heroine of the Burmese people who is a political leader who entered Parliament two years ago and a symbol of resistance under military dictatorship – the words Francis pronounced to her in October 2013 when he received her in the Vatican played a crucial role in her tough decision to continue her political action for her country.

As a result she is once more up against the military hierarchies who have the country in the palm of their hand. Some of these figures are in uniform while others, like the current president Thein Sein, have transformed themselves into civil leaders. Despite being a small minority, the Burmese Church is looking toward the future with hope and is not missing the democracy train.

The challenge the Burmese opposition leader faces today is running for president in Burma’s next elections. This would speed up the democratic transition process that has been underway for about four years now, after the military “apparently” handed the government over to civil leaders, paving the way for new parliamentary elections. The 2012 vote made it possible for Aung San Suu Kyi - who heads the National League for Democracy - to return to active politics after 15 years house arrest and to be elected in Parliament.

But it’s a rocky road to the top. Burma’s next general election is due to take place in November 2015 but there is a clause in the Constitution – written in by the previous government – which prevents the League’s leader from becoming President, simply because she has two children and foreign citizenship (Aung San Suu Kyi is the widow of a British lawyer). The Charter guarantees members of the military 25% of Parliamentary seats, it gives them the power to veto constitutional reforms, forbids accusations against generals who are responsible for human rights violations.

The key issue today is therefore amending the articles in the Constitutional Charter, which ensure that power stays in the hands of military leaders. A petition was launched in recent months – and has now concluded - calling for a revision of the Constitution. The campaign was led by San Suu Kyi and gathered over three million signatures. The campaign even received the support of the international community: on a visit he has just concluded in Burma, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, called for Constitutional reforms to go ahead “to guarantee free and credible elections next year.”

Burma’s Christian community, which faces serious religious freedom restrictions, has expressed its full support for the reinforcement of democracy. Out of Burma’s 53 million inhabitants, only 500,000 are Catholics, that is less than 1%. But the Church has nevertheless been working for the common good of the country, promoting values such as peace, social reconciliation between ethnic and religious groups, inclusion, democracy, dignity and human rights.

The Salesian archbishop of Yangon, Charles Maung Bo, a careful observer of social and political life, confirmed the Church’s appreciation for Aung San Suu Kyi, who “has a key role to play.” The Burmese people still see the woman as a reference point: bishops, priests and lay people alike have great esteem for her and firmly support her, believing she is “the only credible person, to date, for the leadership of the country.” The bishop called the encounter with the Pope “a source of strength and guidance for the Burmese leader.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s encounter with Bergoglio seems to have strengthened Burmese faithful’s support for her. The director of the Holy See Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi spoke of a "cordial meeting" and "great harmony" between the Pope and the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner, on subjects such as democracy and peace. The Pope expressed "his appreciation" said Fr. Lombardi, for the lady's commitment in the development of democracy in her nation, "ensuring the Church's commitment to this cause," because "the Church is at the service of all."

San Suu Kyi needed the international community’s support and the Holy See’s endorsement was a great help. The female leader’s goal is to boost national reconciliation and promote a mature democracy that respects minorities following a persuasive and peaceful strategy based on popular consensus, avoiding a head on collision with the military.

Full Story: Burmese Catholics back Aung San Suu Kyi

Source: Vatican Insider/La Stampa