Pope Francis has often spoken of the need to pay more attention to the people and places on the world’s periphery. Today, ZENIT is publishing the third is a four-part reflection by Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangoon, Myanmar.
In his insightful reflection, Cardinal Bo makes no apologies for being from the periphery. Instead, he speaks of the challenges his world faces — and the lessons his world can share with those in more affluent parts of the world.
In Part Three, we share his thoughts on the legitimate role of Defense for a nation. Earlier parts addressed the Rights and Duties of all people and the quest for Peace. The final installment tomorrow will speak to the importance of Religious Freedom.
The full text was provided by Cardinal Bo to ZENIT Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov.
Here is the third part of the reflection:
A lasting peace depends, at least in part, upon a proper understanding of the legitimate role of a nation’s armed forces. While the Church teaches clearly in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church that “a war of aggression is intrinsically immoral”, a State that has been attacked has “the right and duty to organize a defense even using the force of arms”.
In the Church’s “just war” theory, the use of force in self-defense is legitimate, provided it is proportionate and the last resort. The Church also teaches that there is also “the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression”. Too often – including in Myanmar – civilians become the targets of war, resulting in their displacement and sometimes brutal massacre. As the Church teaches, “in such tragic circumstances, humanitarian aid must reach the civilian population and must never be used to influence those receiving it; the good of the human person must take precedence over the interests of the parties to the conflict.”
This specific message needs to be heard in Myanmar. There are areas of the country, particularly in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, where people in desperate need are cut off from assistance, where humanitarian access is denied. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflicts between different groups in our country, no one should be denied the most basic of rights, the right to food, shelter, medicine, and education.
If Myanmar is to secure peace, democracy, and prosperity, we must work for a transition in which the military comes to understand its role as defending the country, not ruling it. Currently, due to our fragile democracy, we do need the assistance and protection of the military
Every nation has the right to defend itself. Its armed forces are established to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. In such harmonious societies, the armed forces are always there to safeguard freedom, to uphold liberty, and to be accountable to the Head of State, to Parliament, and to the Judiciary. Think of the extraordinary example of our great national hero,
Aung San, the founder of the Myanmar army, the leader of the movement for independence of our country and the father of the democracy leader and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Jesus says (John 15:13): “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Aung San laid down his life for his nation in an ultimate act of political service.
He always believed that the army he founded was there to serve the people.
As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said, her father wanted the army to “abide by principles of justice and honor… He never intended the army to meddle in government.” Striking the right balance, Aung San sought a federal system for Myanmar, explaining the vision of the Panglong Agreement in a speech in the Jubilee Hall, saying: “In my opinion, it will not be feasible to set up a unitary state. We must set up a Union with properly regulated provisions to safeguard the rights of the national minorities.”
We must all return to this founding vision, recalling those famous word from the Bible’s Book of Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
None of us, however powerful we may be, is above the law. Political, civic, religious and military leaders must lead by example never forgetting that all men and women are accountable before God, and God is a God of justice, a God who abhors injustice.
There is an interesting encounter in the New Testament between Jesus and a soldier (Matthew 8:9).
The soldier- who wants Jesus to heal his sick servant – knows what it means to exercise authority: “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Jesus knows that the soldier is a good man who understands the limitations of his authority and the accountability of each of us to a higher authority.
The Son of God responds by using His far greater authority to completely heal the servant of the soldier.
Jesus didn’t repudiate the soldier or deny his request. He respected him because the soldier lived with integrity understanding the limitations of his authority.
I also meditate on the story of Lazarus and the rich man told in the Gospel of St Luke (16: 19-31). The ultimate damnation of the rich man, who refuses to give even the crumbs off his table to the poor man, is a lesson we would all do well to reflect upon.
As Pope Francis was mentioning to our General Commander during his visit to Myanmar in November 2017 that he has the noble task of strengthening the civil government and Building peace in Myanmar.
As I have mentioned recently: Let justice and peace flow like Irrawaddy River. Let true political and economic federalism, bring trust among communities. Let there be transparency. When the government ensures fairness through true participatory democracy, our wounds will heal, conflicts will become history. All armies can make their guns silent. Wage a war for peace. One army is enough and that the army needs to be an army of justice and peace.
No army in a civilized society can be above the law; no soldier in a humane society can be allowed to commit crimes with impunity. If soldiers are to be respected, they must take their place in the barracks and not in the legislature, serving the country under the authority of an elected civilian government. In democratic societies, political leaders rely heavily on the wisdom of their Chiefs of Staff, and such respect is vitally important, but it can only be achieved if it is well-established that the Chiefs of Staff serve under the authority of elected civilian leaders and do not threaten them. Justice and the rule of law must be enhanced. For ultimately, all men and women are accountable before God, and God is a God of justice, a God who abhors injustice.
We should work for a society where the conduct of those who serve in uniform leads to them being respected and loved, rather than feared. We should strive for a society where our soldiers have the humility and faith of the Roman centurion who came to Jesus to ask him to heal his servant. As we hear in the Gospel of St Matthew (8: 5-13), when Jesus offered to come and heal the soldier’s servant, the soldier replied in words we repeat in every Holy Mass just before receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion: “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus is so impressed by the centurion’s faith that he heals the servant.
It is my joy as a pastor to lead souls to salvation, a gift that is available to absolutely everyone. No one is beyond redemption. Saul, one of the most zealous persecutors of the early Church encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus and became St Paul who, with St Peter, is the founding pillar of the Church alongside our Lord. St Peter, too, shows that no one is beyond redemption – he denied our Lord three times before His crucifixion, yet it was on Peter, the ‘Rock’, that Jesus decided to build His Church, declaring that the gates of Hell would never prevail against it. Yet there cannot be salvation without a change of heart. This is as true for the mighty as it is for the meek. The Sacrament of Reconciliation calls us to seek forgiveness lest we too forfeit the joys of Eternal Life. When we do seek forgiveness, reconciliation is there, unconditionally, and God’s love is limitless.[Text provided by Cardinal Bo]