YANGON—In a meeting with the Sangha Maha Nayaka, the country’s highest Buddhist authority, in Yangon on Wednesday, Pope Francis joined Myanmar’s leading Buddhist monks to stress the role of religious leaders in fostering peace and harmony.
Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, arrived in Myanmar on Monday for a four-day visit, becoming the first pontiff to visit the Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian country, where Christians make up less than 6.2 percent of the population and Muslims less than 5 percent.
The pope emphasized that Buddhism and Christianity shared the aim of surmounting all forms of intolerance, prejudice and hatred, quoting from both St. Francis of Assisi and the Dhammapada, a collection of Buddha’s sayings. Francis said, “The words of the Buddha offer each of us a guide: ‘Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth’ (Dhammapada, XVII, 223). Similar sentiments are voiced in a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, let me bring pardon… Where there is darkness, let me bring light, and where there is sadness, joy.’”
The pope added, “May that wisdom continue to inspire every effort to foster patience and understanding, and to heal the wounds of conflict that through the years have divided people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious convictions.” He told the meeting that to ensure that every voice is heard, such efforts are the responsibility of state officials, civil society and religious leaders.
He also commended the ongoing work of the Panglong Peace Conference and prayed for the promotion of greater participation of all people who live in Myanmar.
“If these efforts are to bear lasting fruit, greater cooperation between religious leaders will be required,” Francis said.
“Opportunities for religious leaders to encounter one another and for dialogue are proving to be a notable element in the promotion of justice and peace in Myanmar,” he added.
Dr. Bhaddanta Kumarabhivamsa, chairman of the State Sangha Committee, said leaders of all religions must strive to act as builders of a harmonious human society through their respective religious teachings in consolidating peace and security.
“We, members of different faiths, urgently need to build mutual understanding, respect and trust among ourselves, in order to obtain a peaceful, secure and prosperous human society.”
Denouncing and condemning all kinds of hate speech, false propaganda, conflict and war, and those who support such activities, the head monk urged religious members to cooperate in building bridges for world peace and to speak out publicly against the misuse of religion.
The chairman of the State Sangha also rejected “terrorism and extremism” in the name of religious belief, saying original religious teachings had been manipulated by “some religious followers.”
“We firmly believe that terrorism and extremism arise out of misapprehension of original teachings of the respective religions, because some religious followers introduce amendments to the original teachings, being dominated by desire, ill-will, dread and delusion: the four wrong courses,” the leading monk said at the meeting.
The pope made his appeal at an open-air mass in Yangon on Wednesday morning. He will conclude his visit and head to Bangladesh on Thursday.