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ICC Note: A Spanish Catholic missionary shares the challenges he faces in the Buddhist-majority country Myanmar- difficulties to evangelize, no equal treatment in day-to-day life, not registered as a religious clergy and has to disguise as translator and teacher. Things are not all worsening however, with their visas now extended for longer period and government giving approval to the possibility of Christians setting up kindergartens in the country.    

11/30/2017 Myanmar (Herald Malaysia) – As Pope Francis continues his visit to Burma – also known as Myanmar – this week, he is encountering a country where life for Catholics can be difficult.

Just 1.3 percent of the population in Burma is Catholic, and while freedom of religion exists on paper, evangelizing in the majority Buddhist country is met with obstacles.

In an interview published by the Pontifical Missionary Works, a Spanish missionary who has been in Burma for seven years described life in the country. He spoke anonymously, to avoid jeopardizing his mission.

“The presence of foreign missionaries is not allowed. They’re afraid you’ll proselytize,” he said. “In fact, the brothers from native Burmese communities, even though they are recognized as such, officially they cannot evangelize. There are almost no conversions here; the growth of Christianity is mostly from births.”

But those who are Catholic are enthusiastic about their faith. The missionary said they expect some 300,000 people to attend the papal events with Pope Francis, out of about 700,000 Catholics in the country.

“Since the people are poor and it’s very expensive to travel to the capital, the Church is making a major effort so the faithful can attend the events,” he explained, adding that Bishop Charles Bo of Rangoon wrote to all the parishes, dioceses, congregations and bishops asking them to facilitate getting the people to the events.“

We all collaborated financially to be able to support transportation,” and even “Buddhist monks offered their facilities to take in the pilgrims,” he said. With 87.9% of the population identifying as Buddhist, members of minority religions do not always find equal treatment in their day-to-day lives.

While minority religious services are permitted, non-Buddhists have fewer opportunities to get good jobs, including jobs in government.

However, the missionary said, the situation in the country has improved somewhat. “Before December 2016 we had to leave the country every 70 days. Currently they’re giving permits for longer stays.”

Still, he is not able to identify himself as a missionary. When he meets people, he tells them that he is a teacher and a translator. He is not registered as a religious, but instead has a business visa.

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