Gratitude for a great son of Myanmar

Homily of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangong during the funeral service for the late Archbishop Paul Zinghtung Grawng of Myanmar, who is considered by many members of the Catholic clergy in the country as a mentor.

Today we have gathered in a moment of grief and grace. Grief because we have come to say farewell to a great son of Kachin, a great son of Myanmar, a great and beloved son of the Mother Church. This is also a moment of grace because God the Lord in his infinite grace granted to us a great shepherd in Archbishop Paul. Archbishop Paul is the great gift of God to Kachins, Catholics, and Myanmar.

There will be never another one like him. We have come here not to bury him, but to praise him. He will not be happy that we shed only tears: He will like all of us to remember him as a man who loved the Kachins, the Catholics, and every Burmese with a heart that had space for everyone. We bid farewell to his mortal body, but we will live with his legacy of love and large-heartedness.

This is the moment of gratitude.

Gratitude to his parents: A good tree gives good fruit. Bishop Paul is not only good fruit. The best fruit. God chose him, “calling him by the name” — with the great name of the apostle Paul. Archbishop is the apostle of Paul of Kachins.

Gratitude to God: God was his mentor. He guided the Archbishop. When the Columban missionaries left at the age of 38 he took over as the bishop of a young and challenged Kachin Church. For five decades, his wisdom, his intelligence and his inspiring example steadied the church. His quiet but firm qualities helped in building the church. Today Myitkyina is a very vibrant Catholic community, giving birth to two other dioceses. All due to his pioneering spirit.

Gratitude to Our Archbishop: For his great inspiring spiritual personality. He was born poor; lived through ferocious war; periods of tears and brokenness of the Kachin people — yet steadied the people through his calmness, fortified by a vibrant faith. He wore humility as his identity. Yet his quietness hid a strong character that helped him to pursue priesthood despite many challenges as one of the first priest. His firmness was combined with an all-embracing love for everyone. In his presence, even a child felt at ease. He related to everyone as a human person, making every encounter with him a deep experience of love and acceptance. His was a forgiving and reconciling love. Hundreds have been touched by his simplicity, his personal interest in each person, his fatherly love for the priests in his care, his pastoral passion for his people.

His first love was for everything that is Kachin. He loved his Kachin people with deep love. He was a proud Kachin, he loved Kachin language, culture, Kachin food. But that had not prevented him from loving other tribes. He was a soothing presence in any Church function anywhere, in any tribe. He had a huge heart that accommodated everyone: Christian and non-Christian. Partiality is an unknown word to him. Non-discrimination was his way of life.

One of the great things about Archbishop Paul was his thirst for knowledge; he nourished a great curiosity; he was a humble student in major church seminars, attending even when he retired. He would sit down to learn from teachers who were not even half his age. Knowledge for him was a sacramental activity. Sacred.

We are grateful today that he served not only Kachins: He served the Myanmar Church and the Asian Church. He was twice president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burma, and served in various commissions in the Federation of Bishops Conferences of Asia.

Hailing from a poor and challenged family, Archbishop Paul attained greatness which is very difficult to emulate. He is part of the history of Kachin, Catholics and Myanmar. Today is an end of an era. He could say with a full heart: ‘Nunc Dimittis’.

He can sing with Mary his own Magnificat:

For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;

Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and has exalted the lowly

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences. (Photo supplied)

Today I stand here also how grateful to my mentor, my spiritual father and an enduring friend. My heart is choked with sorrow, but it also sings the praise of the fatherly care with which he nourished me when I was suddenly to take up apostolic administrator and prefect apostolic in Lashio — he was my guru. In my moments of challenges, I reached out to his sage advice, calmed by his assuring words and presence. I feel his loss so much. I am indebted to him for my life’s challenges and those of my mission. He nurtured an empowering relationship with empathy with me. He showed his love in action always: Every one of my invitations for dinner was honored with grace and gratefulness. He would stay with me for private talks — with full of appreciation and guidance. He was my good shepherd — leading to green pastures. I will miss him immensely. I would always cherish every gracious moment of mutual accompaniment.

I am sure he would continue to be our pastor beyond this world, interceding for all Kachins and Catholics for peace and prosperity. His heart would continue to beat for every one of us gathered here to bid farewell to him. He would join the great company of saints, where the Lord will welcome with the words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with small things; I will put you in charge of big things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Mathew 25:23)

Farewell our dearest shepherd!

My last encounter was on Friday night. He was already unconscious. I spoke through the phone for 20 minutes. I knew he was unconscious. I was not sure his ears were listening. But since Archbishop Paul always listened with his heart and responded with love in life, he would have listened to my last words with his heart. I am sure he wished me and all of us well.

Death is a transition to eternal life; those who believe in Jesus, do not die, they rise to Christ. Archbishop Paul has reached his destiny. We will meet him as we live with his grace-filled memory and legacy.

Till that heavenly encounter happens in the presence of the almighty, it is our tear-filled farewell.

In the name of the living God the Father, the grace of the redeeming love of Jesus and the empowering presence of Holy Spirit. Amen.

Charles Bo is the president of Federation of Asia Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) and the archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar.

Archbishop Paul died on Oct. 24. He was 81 years of age.

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