May this new year come as a blessing to all of you. Birth of the new year is also birth of hope. Let us celebrate hope as one nation. We leave behind 2020 with all its challenges. That was an unforgettable year. It caused pain, it wounded us deeply. Globally it emerged as an arrogant enemy against human survival. Life and livelihoods are threatened. Starvation is a reality to nearly 122 million people in the world. It was an existential disruption.
But 2020 is not the story of human submission, it is the story of human resilience. As the doors of 2020 were closing, the scientists have won a strategic battle against our enemy. The vaccine came with an astonishing speed. Hope is in the horizon. COVIF also will end.
The year 2020 also proved to be the year of compassion. Our generous Myanmar people rose against the prospect of chronic starvation through sharing their food when lockdown came in. For a country that was facing pre-COVID socio-economic morbidities, our people’s response was poignant. When nature attacks us, we stand together.
Once again, we have proved that we are a golden land, not because we have jade and diamonds. We are a golden land because our people’s hearts are made of gold. They can melt at the sight of the tears of fellow human beings. For a country with a fragile health infrastructure, the surge and rate of death was controlled by the inspiring example of our front-line health workers. The government responded with commendable clarity. Guns in war areas have fallen silent. Compassion has become the common religion. This is a golden opportunity to build a new Myanmar of justice and peace.
COVID like any other disaster globally uncovered the underlying visceral injustice. Pope Francis was eloquent in articulating that the virus did not attack all people equally. Economically and socially marginalized communities are disproportionally infected and die. Virus kills. Discrimination also kills. Disempowerment kills. Poverty kills.
COVID is a pandemic that needs not only a vaccine but a surgery. Social surgery. Surgery in our priorities, in the way treat the poor and the vulnerable. It is becoming clear, that extensive destruction of forests resulted in this virus jumping from exotic animals into the human population. We face an existential crisis: the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
Any disorder, or disruption of social order, is a challenge. But it is also an opportunity. To build back better, set our moral compass towards the vulnerable, let the arc of history bend towards economic and environmental justice. Pope Francis in his latest booklet “Let us dream together” says COVID offers a great opportunity to reset priorities. Even superpowers which spend billions on war machine realized their folly when they understood they have more soldiers than doctors, more guns than ventilators.
For all of us in Myanmar, this is a lifetime opportunity. COVID is not the only pandemic that diluted the dignity of our people. The senseless chronic war and displacement of seven decades is the worst pandemic. In a country of enormous resources, enforced poverty is a cruel pandemic. Millions of our youth forced into unsafe migration and modern forms of slavery are the heart-wrenching pandemic. Time has come to make all these pandemics to disappear from our wounded history.
I call upon all to “dream together” for a new Myanmar. We can do it together. 2020 saw our people voting overwhelmingly for democracy and peace. Even in ethnic areas, people voted for the national party, hoping it would bring peace. Signs are clear: times to heal our fragmented identities based on race, religion, and language. Too much blood and tears have been shed. Heal this wounded nation through reconciliation. There is no peace without justice. Let those who rule respect the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of all. There is dignity in diversity.
This country has been open for loot for too long. The illicit economy robs billions from the people of Myanmar. Drugs, gems, jades, teak, and other resources, above and below the ground, are looted by international mafias, mercenaries, and their local enablers. Democracy is waging an asymmetric war. As a nation, we need to rise up against these evil forces that eat out of the bowels of the poor.
Let us dream together for a day when peace based on economic and environmental justice prevails in Myanmar, the day when all the refugees, internally displaced people will return home as full citizens. Let us dream for the day, democracy marches without any impediment, let us dream for the day when religions will be instruments of peace and reconciliation, let us dream for the day we will really become the “Golden Land” when all the resources are shared in a transparent way, let us dream of the day when we will move away from the shameful tag as the “least development country” into the most developed nation in Southeast Asia.
Let the nightmares of 2020 fade away. Let a new Myanmar of dreams rise again. Let a new Myanmar of peace, health, and wealth become a reality to all of us.
Wishing my countrymen and women, a blessed New Year.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo
Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar.