Here is a reflection by Fr Eamon Sheridan SSC, a native of Drogheda, on the visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar this week:
The Catholic community in Myanmar is tiny, 600,000 in a population of 60 million. The visit of Pope Francis has been a wonderful boost to them. By coming here the Pope certainly lived up to his call for the Church to go to the periphery.
Today November 30, 2017 the Pope will leave Myanmar and head to Bangladesh. While he was here he encouraged the small Catholic community to be a light in the darkness of ethnic conflict. He called on the Government to respect the human rights of all those who call Myanmar their home.
I didn’t go to Yangon to see the Pope. I am living now in a Catholic run Rehab center in Myitkyina in Kachin state in the North East of Myanmar. The Columbans worked in this area from 1936 until 1978 when they all had to leave. There are 40 young men here who are trying to recover from Alcohol and Drug addiction. The disease of addiction is an epidemic here. The ongoing conflict between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence army, poverty and the ready cheap availability of Heroin are some of the reasons for this epidemic. Approximately 50% of drug users are HIV positive. In response the Church has set up this centre. It is a very basic place, there are no frills, finances are a constant problem. But God has supplied and the center offers hope to people who previously were hopeless that they could ever get recovery. Almost all of the clients in this center are Catholic. Most are from poor backgrounds. Every day for months now we have been praying for the Pope.
As they were unable to go to Yangon I decided to stay with them and watch some of the Pope’s visit on TV. Yesterday we were all filled with excitement as we gathered around the TV to watch the Papal Mass celebrated in Yangon. These young recovering addicts were so emotional that the Pope would come to Myanmar to pray for them. It was for me very moving to see their love for Pope Francis and their genuine joy that he is here. They feel that they are not forgotten.
While the international attention has been focused on the terrible plight of the Rohingha it is easy to forget that over 120,000 Kachin’s have been forced from their homes into internal refugee camps by the Burmese Military.
The hope of all people in Myanmar is for peace. Please pray that the prayer of the Pope and the People for peace will be realized. Please also pray for the young men in this centre that they may find freedom from the terrible prison that addiction is.