Friday, September 28, 2007

Living Witnesses -- The Sturggle for Democracy in Myanmar (Burma) and the Buddhist Monks

Sometimes people question the relevance of religious life. These past couple weeks we have seen the effective witness of Buddhist monks who together protest the brutal and repressive regime in Myanmar (Burma).

Today's Situation:

These images, just taken this past week or so, give a vivid description of the power of collective witness, when people non-violently gather to change their society.

With the monks leading, the people joined in the protest to change their society toward a democratic nation. The people have been inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman pro-democracy leader, who has been under house arrest for several years.

As you can see in this photo on the lower right, the military finally broke in with force to quell the pro-democracy marches in the city of Yangon. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Buddhist monks were arrested this past week in their monasteries late at night to break the movement. Many were beaten by government forces. Some even apparently were killed. This outrage, along with the wanton violence against the ordinary citizens who protested, has been denounced the world over by civic and religious leaders alike, including our own nation.

Christians the world over stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar in their struggle for justice, for peace and for democracy. Likewise, as Franciscan friars, we pray for the well-being of all the people affected. And we think particularly of the monks, especially those who are under arrest and who suffer violence for justice's sake.


Franciscan friars, among other religious men and women, and thousands of lay people, non-violently protested the repressive regime of the late Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in the mid-1980s. They, too, were met with beatings and arrests. Nevertheless they prevailed in keeping with their purpose of non-violent protest on behalf of democracy, justice and peace. The late Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila and an outspoken critic of the regime, encouraged the religious and faithful to exercise their conscience and to protest the injustices of their government. This was very effective in helping to topple the Marcos government in a mostly non-violent series of protests.

from Wikepedia on Jaime Cardinal Sin
[Cardinal Sin] became witness to corruption, fraud and even murder at the hands of the regime — events that pushed Filipinos to the brink of civil unrest and even war. Sin appealed to Filipinos of all religions to follow the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and use peaceful means to change the political situation in the Philippines.
At the same time, President Marcos and
First Lady Imelda Marcos, let Sin to side with the regime. President Marcos ordered his generals to deploy against the marchers, however, tanks and troops were stopped in the streets with people on their knees praying the Rosary and singing English language translations of sacred hymns. Some soldiers decided to join the marchers.

Filipino Franciscan friars, together with some American-born friars, participated in these events. One of those US friars was our own Fr. Hugh Zurat, OFM, who served many years in the Philippine missions. In the light of what is occurring in Myanmar, he recounts vividly the events of the Peaceful Revolution of the 1980s that sent Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos packing and brought in Corazon Aquino as the new president and an era of liberty and democracy. This revolution predated the demise of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe by a few years.

We Franciscans, along with other religious, have been involved in promoting human rights as an outreach of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Synod on Justice and Peace stated in the early 1970s, "Justice is constitutive of the Gospel."

Responding Now:

Again, as Catholic Christians and as Franciscans we stand in solidarity with the Buddhist monks and the people of Myanmar (Burma) as they non-violently confront their violent regime. We hold them in prayer that God bless them and that they are successful in their struggle for a democratic nation that respects human rights and all life, in the promotion of what is good, what is just, what is true and what is right.

The Buddhist monks have been very courageous and effective living witnesses in standing up for justice and promoting a society that supports and defends human rights.

May we Christians, who claim Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, be and do the same.

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