Pope to Burmese bishops: Healing must be a pastoral priority

.- In a meeting with the bishops leading Burma’s small Catholic community, Pope Francis stressed the need to prioritize healing and pastoral accompaniment as the nation continues to reel from both past and present conflicts.

In a Nov. 29 meeting with Burma’s bishops, Pope Francis said the Gospel they preach “is above all a message of healing, reconciliation and peace.” This message, he said, is especially potent in Burma, which is still working “to overcome deeply-rooted divisions and to build national unity.”

Many Catholic faithful in the country “bear the scars of this conflict and have borne valiant witness to their faith and their ancient traditions,” he said, explaining that the preaching of the Gospel “must not only be a source of consolation and strength, but also a summons to foster unity, charity and healing in the life of this nation.”

Echoing his words to interreligious leaders on his first full day in the country, Francis said this unity “is born of diversity. It values people’s differences as a source of mutual enrichment and growth (and) invites people to come together in a culture of encounter and solidarity.”

He prayed that the Lord would guide the bishops in their efforts to promote healing and communion at all levels in the Church, so that “God’s holy people can be salt and light for hearts longing for that peace the world cannot give.”

Pope Francis met with the bishops during his Nov. 27-30 visit to the country – also known as Myanmar – after which he will travel to neighboring Bangladesh from Nov. 30-Dec. 2 before returning to Rome.

He arrived Nov. 27 and has so far met with both religious and civil leaders. The meetings were politically charged on various levels, stemming from the fact that Christians are a small minority in Burma, as well as the fact that the nation is still working to transition to a democratic government after more than 50 years of military rule.

In his speech to the bishops, Pope Francis offered three words for reflection: healing, accompaniment and prophecy.

He praised efforts made by the local Church to care for the poor and the displaced, many of whom are members of the Rohingya Muslim minority who have been forced to flee their home in Burma’s Rakhine State as a result of what the United Nations has called “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing” in the area.

The Pope voiced his thanks to those who “bring the balm of healing to these, their neighbors in need, without regard for religion or ethnicity.”

This healing, he said, is also relevant when it comes to inter-religious dialogue, and prayed that the bishops would continue building bridges of dialogue and join followers of other religions “in weaving peaceful relations will bear rich fruit for reconciliation in the life of the nation.”

Francis then stressed the importance of pastoral accompaniment, saying a good shepherd is always at his flock’s side, and must constantly “bear the smell of the sheep.”

He emphasized the need to go out to the peripheries, telling the prelates that in their role as bishops, “your lives and ministry are called to model this spirit of missionary outreach,” which is primarily carried out by regular visits to the parishes and communities in their local Churches.

In the spirit of the first missionaries who evangelized the country, bishops, as pastors, must “continue to imbue the laity with a spirit of true missionary discipleship and seek a wise inculturation of the Gospel message in the daily life and traditions of your local communities.”

To this end, the role of catechists is essential, he said, adding that “their formation and enrichment must remain among your chief priorities.”

With few bishops and clergy ministering to the entirety of Burma’s small Catholic population, catechesis plays a key role in the formation and education of the faithful in the country.

Burma is a majority Buddhist country. Catholics are a small minority, making up just 1.3 percent of a population of nearly 52 million.

They are led by 22 bishops; 888 priests, both diocesan and religious; 128 non-ordained male religious and just two permanent deacons, making the ratio of Catholics to priests in the country around 742 to one. Women religious serving in Burma number just under 2,000. The country includes three archdioceses and 13 dioceses.

 

Source : CNA

Collected by RG