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A Christmas of Reconciliation and Freedom for Burmese Catholics

ICC Note: In the run up to Christmas this year Catholic sources say they have experienced little interference from government authorities while planning events. This indicates that religious freedom may be growing in Burma, a formerly militaristic state that overtly targeted Christians for mistreatment for decades. Known by it's current government as Myanmar, fighting with ethnic Christian's in the North of the country still continues despite calls for peace. 

By Francis Khoo Thwe

12/24/2012 Burma (AsiaNews) - Christians in Burma, and especially young people, this Christmas expect "above all peace, joy, prosperity and reconciliation"; celebrations are going ahead "without difficulty" and "permits are no longer needed as in the past", which is why there are "positive signs "in terms of" religious freedom". So says Msgr. Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, economic and trade capital of Myanmar, speaking to AsiaNews of the expectation of Catholics for Christmas. "The message - the prelate continues - is encapsulated in the motto 'The power of empty hands' and demonstrates "the power of great people in history" who won the hearts of the people, like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa "without the use of force". The child born in a cradle, had nothing in his hands."

Msgr. Bo recently participated in the 10th General Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops, which took place in Vietnam from 11 to 16 December. He then returned to Myanmar to prepare for Christmas celebrations, waiting for with joy and trepidation by the Catholic community in Yangon. "It is a gift of God to man," says the bishop, speaking of the feast day, and every believer is called to "share what they have with the poor and marginalized" in the name "of hope and forgiveness." A powerful God, he adds, was made flesh "in the body of a newborn baby" who appeared apparently "vulnerable and defenseless" so that all of us "could love him and love our brothers."

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Christmas celebrations mark the end of a year full of changes in the country, which has left behind decades under a military regime to open up to the international community. Parliament also welcomed the historic opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. "The Church shares in this work of nation building," says Msgr. Bo and feels "close to the people of Myanmar." This year we do not need special permits to celebrate the Mass and this "is a good sign in terms of religious freedom".

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