(from Yangon) – He is very keen to convey his message directly to Pope Francis, and on two occasions he asked that it be also video-recorded: “Pope Francis, icon of peace in the world, we welcome you to Myanmar”,
said monk Ashin Pyin Nyaw Bha Tha, head of the Buddhist monastery (Theravada) of Pann Pyo Let, with smiling eyes. The monastery is located approximately 40 kilometres north of Yangon. It has all the features of a village that extends for 100 hectares in the lush vegetation of the tropical forest, with small houses, schoolrooms, refreshment points. Here we find the true face of Myanmar: Buddhism is practised by 85% of the population, with approximately 500 thousand male monks and 75 thousand female monks. They can be seen also in the city thanks to their beautiful saffron-coloured robes and female monks’ pink gowns. All Buddhist youths in Myanmar are expected to serve as a monk sometime in their life: it can be for two weeks, for six months or for two years. There isn’t a fixed rule, but for those who choose monastic life it’s an honour solemnly respected by everyone. Despite the apparent lightness characterising the monks’ behaviour, Theravada Buddhism is among the most rigorous religious practices, that requires following 227 rules.
The Pope in Myanmar. The news of the Pope’s visit reached also this monastery on the outskirts of Yangon, and was welcomed with great anticipation and joy. “It’s the first time that a Pope decides to visit our Country”, said the monk, who introduced himself as a very good friend of Cardinal Charles Bo. “The fact that the Pope will be visiting us at this specific moment in time is very meaningful. The Country is going through a difficult crisis in the Rakhine state, while ethnic conflicts are ongoing in several parts of the Country.
The visit of the Pope, icon of peace, is an opportunity for us all, it’s a propitious sign for peace in the Country.”
A gleam of hope. Myanmar endured a long period of harsh military rule that ended only recently. The burden of those years continues to weigh heavily, along with the legacy of living under military control. The free, secure path of democracy is hard to undertake. “We don’t expect the Pope’s visit to change the situation overnight, transformations take place with time”, the monk remarked. “However, I am confident that if the Pope has decided to visit our Country it’s for a reason. It means that he sees a gleam of hope for us, that he will bring a token of peace.
The Pope is in advanced age, he comes from afar. He has no time to waste. So there must certainly be a reason that brought him here, and this reason will change the history of our Country for the good.”
School of peace. In 2004, thanks to the extraordinary resourcefulness of Ashin Pyin Nyaw Bha Tha, the Pann Pyo Let Monastery opened its doors and became a school. The project was developed to provide the poor, peasant families with the possibility of giving an education to their children. Today the primary and secondary school has 400 students, including children and orphans from conflict zones, especially those from the States of Shan and Kachin. The school has a comprehensive, state-of-the-art educational offer: the underlying principles are respect for human rights, equality, sustainable development, environmental protection.
Each morning at 9:00, before class, children can freely decide to devote 15 minutes to meditation that helps them concentrate during their studies through breathing techniques. “We firmly believe that children are our future – the monk said. – If children have a beautiful future ahead of them, also our Country will be beautiful.”
Interreligious dialogue. The school is open to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. The sacred texts of major world religions are available in the school library: from the Bible to the sacred texts of Hinduism and of the Bahai. One of the schools’ primary “missions” is to provide youths with an area of peace, where religious and ethnic differences are not hindered or feared. In fact they are respected and welcomed as a gift.
The site also serves as the venue of peace forums promoted by the international organization “Youth co-action for peace” and of workshops on interreligious dialogue attended by young Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. “Education to dialogue is crucial for the future of our Country.
The ongoing conflicts in Burma are fomented by people who make an instrumental use of religion to spark off violence. But the path of religion leads to peace.”
The words of monk Ashin Pyin Nyaw Bha Tha remind us of Pope Francis’ words on dialogue of peace. “A fundamentalist person is one who believes that his religion is superior to that of others.” He concluded: “The world is like a garden with many flowers. Every flower has a different colour, but each diversity and nuance encompasses infinite beauty. In order to live peace we must learn to see the gift of beauty enshrined in every religion.”