Nonviolence in action in Myanmar

“[We] are deeply troubled by these developments in Myanmar,” wrote the members of Pax Christi Asia-Pacific on 5 February. The actions on 1 February were “a coup – not just against a popularly elected government, but even more significantly against the people of Myanmar, their hopes and aspirations, their pride in democratic participation, however flawed, after military rule of several decades. It is tragic that this limited ‘experiment’ was snuffed after a challenging ten-year journey to democracy since 2012. …

“The well-being of the people of Myanmar was the focus of Pope Francis’ visit in 2017. In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (2020), he writes ‘peace is not merely absence of war, but a tireless commitment to recognise, protect and concretely restore the dignity . . . of our brothers and sisters.'”

Read the statement from the Pax Christi Asia-Pacific region in its entirety.

Members of the Catholic Church in Myanmar, whose leader is Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, have given clear support for the pro-democracy, anti-coup demonstrators, and in some cases have actively participated in protests. A powerful image, shared at the end of February, shows a solitary Catholic sister who — in a profound example of nonviolence in action — kneeling before soldiers and urging them to not harm protesters.

Nun and monk put themselves between police and protesters in Myanmar (written by John Burger, Aleteia, 3 February 2021)

The following article, written by Claire Giangrave (Religion News Service) and published by the Global SIsters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter, provides more information about Sr. Ann Nu Thawng and her brave act.

A Catholic nun, kneeling before armed forces in Myanmar and begging them not to open fire on protesters, has become a symbol for the protests against the military coup that destabilized the country in February.

The pictures, which show Sr. Ann Nu Thawng of the religious congregation of Saint Francis Xavier, were posted Feb. 28 by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, and quickly went viral.

“Today the protests were serious on a national level,” the cardinal wrote on Twitter. “Police are arresting, beating and even shooting at people. In tears, Sister Ann Nu Thawng begs and stops the police from arresting protesters.”

On Feb. 1, military forces in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, quashed the electoral victory of Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her resistance against the military regime and who has been president of the National Democracy League party since 2011. The military enforced a state of emergency after calling the elections fraudulent and arrested Suu Kyi.

Pro-democracy protests, followed by violent repressions by military armed forces, have racked the country since the coup. On Feb. 28, more than 30 protesters were wounded, and 18 people died at the hands of the military.

Speaking to the Catholic news agency Fides, Joseph Kung Za Hmung, director of the first Catholic paper in Myanmar, said that Thawng’s actions “shocked many of us.”

Her protest, he added, “allowed over 100 protesters to find refuge in her convent. She saved them from a brutal beating and police arrest.”

Kung Za Hmung praised the Catholic nun as “a model for church leaders,” who “are called to get out of their comfort zones and be inspired by her courage.”

Pope Francis made an appeal for peace and democracy in the country during his general audience on Mar. 3, where he asked local authorities to ensure “that dialogue prevails over repression and harmony over discord.”

Francis appealed to a future where “hatred and injustice make way for encounter and reconciliation,” and urged military authorities to promote democracy “through the concrete gesture of the release of the various political leaders imprisoned.” …

 

Photo of protest in Myanmar, February 2021, credit: Ninjastrikers, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

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