CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Stay and pray an hour in solidarity with the people of Myanmar

HONG KONG (SE): “We are here to do what is possible in support of real peace,” Father Franco Mella told a group of around 40 people who gathered at the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui to stay and watch for one hour with the people of the Union of Myanmar on the 23rd anniversary of what the world knows today as the 8888 (8 August ’88) Uprising.

“On this day in 1988, students went out into the streets of Rangoon (Yangon) to demonstrate for the people, that they may be free from injustice,” the Italian missionary from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions said.

The candlelight vigil was organised under the theme Keep the flame burning; Commemorating the 8888 Uprising in Burma.

The day represents the beginning of what developed into a nationwide movement of protest that was brutally squashed as thousands died at the hands of the police and military on September 18.

Rattled by the sheer magnitude of the protest, which included professional people as well as students, the governing junta of Ne Win closed all university campuses in the country for two years.

Father Mella said that from that day onwards, repression of the people steadily increased in Myanmar, as the ruling military junta gained powerful allies, particularly in the shape of Russia and China, which threw their support behind the oppressive regime in their quest for minerals, oil and the spoils of the rich natural resources of the country.

“The generals became stronger. They even built a new capital city in Naypyidaw to enjoy the privileges of their position, while pressuring the Buddhist majority and civic groups to be silent,” he said.

“But the people would not remain silent and the people were not afraid,” he went on, inviting all present to sing, We are not afraid… from the song, We shall overcome.

He added that the people of Hong Kong have watched as the nation’s democracy icon, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, was refused the right to take up the presidency in 1990 and refused the right to accept her Nobel Prize the following year.

“They witnessed first hand the disinterest of the generals in the plight of the people in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2008,” he went on, “as many people from Hong Kong travelled to Myanmar with aid and support for the people. This galvanised support in Hong Kong for the Myanmese people.”

The vigil was organised by the Hong Kong Coalition for a Free Burma and Amnesty International.

As the people held candles in the heavy humidity of a steamy evening, Bruce Van Voorhis, from the Kowloon Union Church, led the group in prayer.

People prayed for those who were killed 23 years ago, as well as the hundreds of political prisoners who remain in custody, those who have been tortured, lost their land or been evicted from their homes.

He gave special mention to those who have lost their childhood through conscription as child soldiers, the women who have been raped as a weapon of war and for the restoration of the rule of law in the turbulent land.

Reverend Phyllis Wong Mei-fung, from the Kowloon Union Church, said that all people have the right to their human dignity, explaining that the denial of human rights is a repression which robs the people of peace.

She invited all present to join in the singing of St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace.

Mufti Arshad, an iman from the Kowloon Mosque, spoke of the plight of the Muslim Rohingya people, whom the government in Naypyidaw refuses to recognise as citizens, leaving them as refugees, mostly in Thailand and Bangladesh, with no soil under their feet on which to walk.

“This is not about religion,” he said. “It is about community. All people have the right to community and this is being denied to these people.”

A woman from the Kachin ethnic people of northern Myanmar, who was introduced as Helen, spoke of the continuing violence against the ethnic minority at the hands of the military.

She questioned the enthusiasm of the western press about a possible opening up of democracy in her country, saying that the words of the government cannot be divorced from its actions.

An impromptu from a man who described himself as a poet from Beijing revealed the widespread support for the people of Myanmar.

“I am a poet and live in Beijing,” he said. “I know police harassment.”

He explained that he first read of Suu Kyi in a magazine and wrote to her. “We became pen friends,” he said, adding that people who live in repressive situations have a lot to learn from and give to each other.

As the people stood in prayer, the occasional passer-by stopped for a few minutes before continuing their journey, as Van Voorhis invited people to continually carry the light of solidarity inside of them and members of Amnesty International circulated a petition for United Nations observers to be allowed proper freedom to monitor the situation in Myanmar

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