A medic takes swab samples during tests for domestic airline passengers at the Covid-19 rapid diagnostic testing centre in Yangon on Dec. 21. The coronavirus has instensified the struggle of Myanmar's poor. (Photo: AFP)
The joyous night of Christmas is with us today. All blessings be with you. It is a great night. This night is the night of promise. This night will enter a new day.
2020 threw all of us great challenges. We faced a pandemic. It looked like a long night. It looked like a long winter. But as the prophet Isaiah says in the first reading today, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
As the year comes to a close, we are heartened by the news that there is a vaccine against this deadly virus. God has never given up on human beings. That is the message of our struggle of this year. We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who are still battling the virus. We pray for every health worker on this night. They are the lights of the world today.
To all of them and to all of you, let me say with joy: Merry Christmas. We have come to pray that the coming year may be peaceful, the people of Myanmar enjoy greater health, that our country may be more peaceful. Hope is like the Irrawaddy River. As the river flows through the heart of Myanmar, let hope flow in our hearts. Jesus the healer is born. Let the creation be healed tonight, brothers and sisters.
The message of Christmas is that Christ is the light, brighter than all darkness.
Pope Francis recently released a book titled Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. He has asked us to see the situation, judge it and act. Every crisis is an opportunity to return to God’s plan for all of us. Covid has brought us to celebrate this Christmas with a great realization that life is a gift, every breath is a gift. For the poor, every plate of food is a gift. We have understood every minute, every day is a gift. Every small handshake is a gift, every coming together is a gift. This pandemic has forced us into social distancing, brought our hearts together. We are made to acknowledge God as our source.
We remember the story of the first Christmas. The Holy Family resembled many of us living with difficulties. They were poor, they were without regular work. They were migrants like many of our youth. They did not have enough money to find a decent house for their baby. Mother Mary, Joseph and Jesus experienced all the darkness of discrimination.
But out of this simple family, God brought hope, peace and redemption. The Incarnation is God’s decisive “yes” to humanity and creation. He finds us when we think everything is lost. He will heal us, he will console us, he will rebuild us as his people.
Yes, brothers and sisters, we do not curse the darkness, we light a lamp of hope. That is the Christmas message. Light the lamp of hope in your hearts, in your families and in the country of Myanmar. Human heart lives by hope. This Christmas night the prince of light is born. He will overcome any darkness with his light.
2020 is also the “C” year. C stands for Covid. This invisible virus has disrupted our physical, social, spiritual, psychological life. It has threatened this year another C: Christmas. The main Cs of Christmas are gone today: crib, carols, cakes, congregational worship, church. But all was not lost. We have discovered something new.
These Cs have given way to greater blessings: Christ and his compassion. Be compassionate as your heavenly father is compassionate. Compassion became a common virtue. We have witnessed the generosity of people reaching out to suffering people. We remember the extraordinary sacrifice of caregivers — another C — and their willingness to expose themselves to risk every day.
During this year, we felt the presence of Jesus every day. Christ came to meet us in our loneliness as a consoler, he met the families who lost their livelihoods, he met the families of those who were infected, he met the families of those grieving silently for the loss of their dear ones.
We offer our great nation, Myanmar, to the protection of Child Jesus. Until recently the virus frightened our simple people. Mercifully, it is coming down. This pandemic should go. But as many challenges emerged during Covid, we understood that our suffering is also because of other chronic pandemics in this nation. Poverty is a pandemic, war is a pandemic, displacement is a pandemic, human trafficking of innocent people is a pandemic.
This Christmas has a very special message to our countrymen and women. Covid killed all kinds of Myanmar people, from all races, from all classes. It discriminated none. We are vulnerable to an invisible virus. There seemed to be a vaccine for that virus, but there seemed to be no virus to the 70 years of war and displacement.
As the real Covid broke in the country, I released a statement echoing the pleadings of the UN secretary general and our Holy Father, pleading for a ceasefire and peace. Sadly, it continued. Mercifully, there is a ceasefire now.
I wish to tell our countrymen and women: The core message of Christmas is peace. Jesus is the prince of peace.
The only war we need to fight in Myanmar is the fight for a prosperous life for all, a peaceful life for all. Let this Christmas celebrated amidst a Covid winter help us to bring peace. Will this be a new beginning for this nation? Let this Christmas be the starting of reconciliation among all groups, races and religions in this country.
Pope Francis has written extensively on the need for reconciliation and making peace. This is a long process. Pope Francis has pointed out we are at war on three levels: sin, hatred and war, and nature.
At personal, community and international levels, Covid is calling us to reconcile. It is a great irony that in many countries those who do not have enough doctors have thousands of soldiers in the business of war. There are more guns than ventilators. Covid exposes man’s travesty of priorities.
The world rejoices at the coming of a vaccine for the coronavirus. Christ is the vaccine for all our sorrows; he is the eternal healer. His arrival will heal all our wounds. This will come only through a change of heart, with all ill will changed into goodwill.
The real work of Christmas starts once the celebration is over. Myanmar was once a golden land, blessed by God with treasures above the ground and below the ground. But we are now a country at war. Let the work of peace and reconciliation start. Let us make the whole of 2021 Christmas year.
Let all people of goodwill make music in the heart this Christmas by bringing peace to this nation. Make this year a year of peace. Merry Christmas.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo is the archbishop of Yangon in Myanmar and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. This is an edited version of a sermon Cardinal Bo gave last night at a Christmas Mass.