Led by Columban students in Myanmar, the Myanmar Prayer Service last week was a beautiful, if not heartbreaking, reminder of the importance of the life, light and truth of the gospel. As a community, we especially called to mind those who have sacrificed their lives, or have disappeared under the military junta in the country.
Beginning with a warm welcome to the large community gathered on Zoom this morning, the students began their service with a sobering reminder of the military violence the country has faced over the past year, with thousands of killings since the coup began. This included the burning of more than 30 people on Christmas day itself. This situation has left the country’s citizens questioning their security, the future of their children and the value of their lives. They brought this together with a reading from Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd in which the students identified themselves and fellow citizens as the sheep lost in the valley of darkness without a shepherd. Instead the population, looking to the international community as their shepherd for security and humanitarian aid, are greeted with inaction and the same ‘blah blah blah’ highlighted by Greta Thurnberg.
And yet, the students insisted, nothing is impossible for God. Out of chaos he can bring justice, out of evil, good. Besides the creation of a National Unity Government on the ground representing a new shepherd for the people, out of the coup Myanmar is seeing increased unity and empathy for their fellow citizens. Under the military Junta all people are equally at risk; rich/poor, young/old, low/high, minority or not they suffer the same as ethnic groups have been facing for many years. The people have not only come together to protect themselves with non-violent protests and creative disobedience but also the formation of the people’s defence force. This unity has never existed amongst the people of Myanmar in the history of the country. But now, more than ever, the people want peace and an end to the unjust treatment of their family and friends. And it is this unity, in a people whose lives are always at risk, that continues to push them forward to fight for what they believe in and restore democracy in the country.
The Students have also found comfort in the life of Jesus, who himself experienced what it’s like to live under injustice and power. Killed by Roman soldiers, He gave his life in the name of justice and truth like many of those who have been killed or arrested in Myanmar. Just as he challenged the authorities, as Christ’s followers we know what we have to do faced with injustice. For Myanmar, Jesus is the shepherd who lies down his life for the truth, He will lead and guide them through the valley of the shadow of death.
This brave reflection was followed by two powerful videos, one depicting a doctor who had fled her home and sought safety with her family in ethnic armed groups, and the other a compilation of the events of the past year put together by one of the students. Speechless and touched by this wonderful sharing, I’m certain their bravery and experiences brought tears to many of our eyes.
Having paid witness to the situation in Myanmar, the end of the service brought hope through the truly international feeling of solidarity inspired by the prayers of the faithful, which were read in five different languages (English, French, Spanish, Fijian and Kachin). This feeling of hope was then carried through song as the students singing ‘May the Lord make a better place for you and for me’ bringing a poignant sense of joy to the reflection.
I finish this blog with the words of Fr. Finbar who gave the final blessing: ‘We pray that the perseverance of light, life and freedom may overcome the darkness.’