MYANMAR: Christian leaders praise monks and offer prayers for nation

September 25, 2007

The leader of the Anglican Church in Myanmar (Burma) has said he is praying for the nation as thousands of Buddhist monks are taking to the streets of the capital in non-violent protests.

"We pray for peace and the future of the country," Anglican Archbishop Samuel San Si Htay told Ecumenical News International in a September 25 telephone interview.

Si Htay said he would be meeting Roman Catholic bishops to discuss the situation that has seen tens of thousands of Buddhist monks marching in the streets of Yangon (Rangoon), as well as in the second biggest city, Mandalay.

Meanwhile, the general secretary of the Thailand-based Christian Conference of Asia, Prawate Khid-arn, praised the positive role of the monks in helping people "to overcome the inhumane conditions to which they have been subjected for a long period."

The protests have taken place despite orders from the country's military government for the Buddhist clergy to return to their monasteries and to cease political activity. The number of demonstrators in Yangon on September 24 reached 100,000, according to an Associated Press report, and made the day's protest the biggest such gathering since a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

"The open dissent and the bold marches of peoples across the cities is a clear sign that people are not willing to conform to the might of the military dictators," CCA general secretary Prawate said in a letter to the Myanmar Council of Churches.

"The liberative spirituality of Buddhism and other religions is a positive non-violent counter force to transform the principalities, powers and demonic forces which have overtaken your country for decades," he said.

A message of support to the Myanmar church council came also from the general secretary of the Council of Churches in Malaysia, the Rev. Hermen Shastri, who said he hoped the events would lead to a "new era of democracy and peace" in Myanmar.

"It is moving to see how religious people, especially Buddhist monks and nuns, are at the forefront in the struggle," said Shastri. "We know that your council and many church leaders have joined the forces for democratic change to oppose the long dictatorship of the military junta."

The military took power in Myanmar in 1988 following the emergence of a mass pro-democracy movement under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burmese independence leader Aung San.

Buddhists account for 89 percent of Myanmar's 47.7 million people. Christians make up 4 percent of the population.