YANGON — Religious leaders of Myanmar called for unity and peace as they gathered at the country’s first mass interfaith rally at Aung San Stadium in Yangon on Tuesday.
It was the first major push for improved relations between followers of different faiths since an eruption of deadly violence in August inflamed communal tensions, especially between Buddhists and Muslims, and triggered an exodus of some 520,000 Muslims to Bangladesh.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) organized the gathering, which was attended by Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian leaders, along with thousands of supporters from all religions.
As the crowd lit candles and prayed for peace—particularly in Rakhine State—Dr. Bhaddanta Iddhibala, chairman of the Yangon Region Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, appealed for people to stop blaming others for conflict and help restore peace.
“If each of us only see the mistakes of others, there will be no peace among us. We need to have inner peace in each of us first and avoid the actions which could affect the peace, while praying for the peace,” he said.
Muslim leader Alahaj Mofti Mohamad said the harmony in which Muslims have lived for centuries in Myanmar is being threatened by hate.
“We, the Muslims, strongly hope for the immediate end of the current conflicts and the haters. We strongly desire to live in harmony as our ancestors lived in past centuries. We want back the situation where we shared the happiness together with humanity, without haters and doubts of each other, without discrimination,” he told the crowd.
“We would like to urge every citizen to work for the peace, unity and living in harmony,” he added.
The patron of Quan Yin Buddhist monastery and a Hindu leader also called for followers of all religions to cooperate for the peace and stability of the country.
While urging people to practice the way of peace, Cardinal Charles Bo, the current Archbishop of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yangon, also urged the international community to understand the situation of the country.
“We went to tell the world that Myanmar is living under the teaching of Lord Buddha. We have sympathy to every human being. The world has to understand [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s] government and has to help her. It is impossible to solve every problem in just 18 months,” said Cardinal Charles Bo.
The Cardinal said the country under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has its own strategy to solve the problems. He criticized the international community for stripping awards from the State Counselor.
“She is not working for her country to win the awards. The Nobel peace prize came to her, she did not chase it. The awards can be stripped from her. For me, I would like to give back the awards with the compensation,” said the cardinal.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the one who led this country to the democratic path and struggled for many years. We want to let the world know that we have our own strategy to solve our own problems. We believe in the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is our hope,” he added.
Yangon chief minister U Phyo Min Thein, who lit the peace candle to open the ceremony, said the event showed the world the country is living in harmony and praying.
“This event shows Myanmar is a country with the people of different faith, living in harmony and sharing the sympathy for those who are in difficultly,” said the chief minister.
“We hope the world will understand the situation of our country,” he added.
Interfaith ceremonies were also held in other cities such as Mandalay, Monywa, Mawlamyine and Loikaw at the same time as the Yangon event.