Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon shakes hands with churchgoers in November 2014 during a celebration marking 500 years of Catholicism in Myanmar at St Mary's Cathedral, Yangon (Photo by John Zaw)
Pope Francis named Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon as a new cardinal on Sunday, the first in the country’s history.
Archbishop Bo was one of 20 new red hats from around the world named by the pope. Fifteen of them are under the age of 80 and will be eligible to elect the next pontiff.
Once these new members of the College of Cardinals are officially installed on February 14, there will be 228 members, including 125 who can vote in conclaves.
The Church in Myanmar greeted news of Archbishop Bo’s elevation warmly.
“I see a link between the country’s new openness and our getting a new cardinal,” Fr Maurice Nyunt Wai, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar, said on Monday.
He said the appointment could help pave the way for the establishment of diplomatic ties between Myanmar and the Vatican.
It was also a welcome gift for Myanmar Catholics who last year marked the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Catholicism in the country, he said.
Fr Christopher Raj, director of Karuna Myanmar Social Services’ in Lashio, in Shan State expressed hope that the elevation could help spur on peace efforts in the country between the government and various ethnic groups.
The fact that the archbishop has served in several Myanmar dioceses such as Lashio, Pathein, Mandalay and Yangon and worked with many ethnic groups and people from other religions could be significant, he said.
“I see that Cardinal-elect Bo could play a major role in Myanmar’s peace process…. I hope that his experience working with different ethnic tribes may help the peace process,” Fr Christopher said.
Archbishop Bo was born in Monhla on Oct 29, 1948.
He was ordained a priest in April 1976 and became Bishop of Lashio in December 1990.
He also served as Bishop of Pathein and Apostolic Administrator of Mandalay Archdiocese before being installed as Archbishop of Yangon in May 2003.
Additional reporting by AFP.