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New cardinal profile: Archbishop Charles Maung Bo

February 03, 2015

Eighth on the list of new cardinals announced by Pope Francis on January 4 is Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, 66, of Yangon (Rangoon), a city of 5.2 million that is the largest in Myanmar (Burma).

The nation of 51 million is 89% Buddhist, 4% Muslim, 3% Protestant, and 1% Catholic, and none of his predecessors has been named a cardinal.

Born in 1948 in Mohla, a village in central Myanmar that has been a font of priestly and religious vocations, he entered the Salesian order at 14, making his first profession at 20 and his final profession at 25. He was ordained to the priesthood in Lashio, a largely Buddhist city of 130,000 in the northeastern part of the nation, in 1976.

For the next seven years, Father Bo served as a parish priest, five of them in the nearby town of Loihkam, and two in Lashio. From 1983 to 1985, he returned to the Salesian house in Anisakan, located in the central part of the nation, to form young religious.

In 1985, he was named apostolic administrator of the Prefecture Apostolic of Lashio, and the following year, St. John Paul II named him apostolic prefect. In 1990, the Pope raised the jurisdiction to the dignity of a diocese, and Father Bo became its first bishop.

In 1996, St. John Paul transferred Bishop Bo to the Diocese of Pathein, a city of 300,000 in southern Burma. In 2003, the Pope named him archbishop of Yangon.

Archbishop Bo came of age under a repressive military regime that took over all schools and hospitals. Since 1999, the United States State Department has cited Myanmar as one of the world’s worst violators of the right to religious freedom.

“The government continues to show a preference for Theravada Buddhism through official propaganda and state support, including funding for monasteries and pagodas, and support for Buddhist monastic schools and Buddhist missionary activities,” the State Department said in a July 2014 report, though the situation for Christians is improving.

During his years as archbishop, the prelate has consistently called for peace and religious freedom.

After Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, Archbishop Bo issued the following statement:

We, the Catholics of Myanmar, were stunned by the sudden and shocking announcement of our Holy Father. In the turbulent waters of the tyranny of relativism, our Holy Father has been steering the ark of Faith with valour and an untiring zeal. He has been the morning star of Hope to the faithful swayed by the stormy sea of modernism.

For the last half century, starting from the Vatican II, he gave his life, his gifts and his rock solid faith to the service of the only Roman Catholic Church, protecting it from the vagaries of time and vandalism of mutilating relativism. The news breaks our heart. We are like a sheep without a shepherd … We will sorely miss him.

He has also praised Pope Francis. “One of the great evangelists of Christian history is the current Pope Francis: his words and actions have given enthusiasm to Christians and the world,” he wrote in October 2013, as he urged Catholics to bring Christ to others by imitating Mother Teresa’s service of the poor and sick.

“The Church in Myanmar has always been very traditional and many, including clergy, are a bit allergic to change,” he added in a November 2014 interview. “There is need for a change of mindset and attitude in tune with Pope Francis. Often the Church is quite authoritative and centralized. There is need to empower the laity, the religious (especially religious sisters) and particularly women. They all should have a bigger and more active voice in decision making.”

 


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