Bishop Justin Saw Min Thide of Hpa-an reads his latest book 'Peace' at his office in Hpa-an, the capital of Myanmar's Kayin State, on May 22. (ucanews.com photo)
Myanmar Bishop Justin Saw Min Thide, 67, is humble and softly spoken but his skilled penmanship has produced a catalog of books on peace, reconciliation and other subjects that have won over Catholic readers.
The ethnic-Karen prelate serves in mountainous Kayin State but was born near the commercial capital of Yangon.
He started writing articles while a seminarian and has since published books on peace, morality and married and religious life that have been distributed across the nation's 16 dioceses.
During a conversation with ucanews.com at his office in Hpa-an, the state capital, he talked about his latest book, 'Peace', which makes references to papal letters, especially those written by Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II, and key documents published by the church.
"Peace is very, very important in our country so I wrote about it by combining my views with those of the church," he said.
"I think this book is very relevant given our current situation and I think it sends an important message that people will be able to relate to."
Kayin State, where Hpa-an Diocese is located, has suffered from six decades of civil war between the military and the Karen Nation Union (KNU).
About 100,000 refugees and internally displaced people live in nine camps along the Myanmar-Thai border.
Nearly 80 percent are ethnic Karen from eastern Myanmar who fled the conflict and persecution at the hands of the army under military rule.
"Everyone here has a strong desire to end the fighting and see peace restored. Without that there can be no substantial economic development as the two are intertwined," said the prelate, who has a B.A. in Burmese.
"We need to forget our past and engage in dialogue aimed at reconciliation so we may attain our goal of peace," he said.
"Fighting will not solve our political problems so we must seek peace through negotiations. Fighting only brings suffering," he added.
"Key stakeholders like the government, military and ethnic armed groups must promote dialogue based on equality and trust."
Bishop Justin Saw Min Thide of Hpa-an Diocese (second from left) in Kayin State joins a group discussion at an interfaith peace conference in Yangon in this April 2017 file photo. (ucanews.com photo)
To Rome and back
Bishop Justin Saw Min Thide was ordained as a priest on March 19, 1984. He served in several parishes as either a priest or diocesan ecumenical officer from 1984 to 1989.
He furthered his studies at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome from 1990-92 and serves as a professor at St. Joseph Catholic Major Seminary in Pyin Oo Lwin, a scenic hill town just east of Mandalay, from 1992-2003.
He became the Auxiliary Bishop of Yangon Archdiocese in July 2007 and Bishop of Hpa-an Diocese on Jan. 14, 2009, the year it was created.
The diocese now has 24 priests, 37 male and female religious workers and 73 catechists serving about 20,000 Catholics in the state of 1.5 million people, according to the church's Myanmar directory.
Challenges persist in hinterlands
Despite the demands of his administration and pastoral responsibilities as a bishop, he said he always tries to find time to write.
"I try to publish one book a year," he said.
In describing the challenges he faces in carrying out his ecclesiastical duties in this remote and hilly region, he said he devotes much time to providing spiritual care for Karen refugees and young migrant workers.
"We are seeing less people rise to the calling as more eschew a priestly vocation," he said. "We only have two seminarians from the diocese so far."
Catechists have played a role in areas where priests are unable to reach due to their busy schedules, especially on Sundays.
"Young people are not really interested in entering the seminary to become priests these days so they venture overseas in search of jobs," he said.
More than 50 percent of young people in the two states of Karen and Mon of an employable age have worked in Thailand and Malaysia, International Organization for Migration surveys show.
"Migration is a great challenge for the diocese and for the country," Bishop Justin Saw Min Thide said.
He also sends priests from the diocese to carry out spiritual care for Karen refugees in collaboration with other Karen bishops from Mawlamyine and Pathein Dioceses.
"They [refugees] have been stuck in those camps for decades, he said.
"They want to go home but their repatriation must be safe and voluntary."
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