In November 2014, the Catholic community in Myanmar celebrated 500 hundred years of the arrival of the Catholic faith. Thousands of people, many wearing the colourful traditional dress of the various ethnic groups, gathered in the city for the three-day event. Many expressed delight and astonishment to see so many other believers in one place. The Kachin community was there in great numbers.
It was a vibrant gathering which Archbishop Charles Bow described as a “Rainbow Church”, which brings together different ethnicities and cultures in “a new Pentecost.”.
“It is a once-in-500-years event,” said 25-year-old Bawk Ra, her shoulders draped by the shimmering silver shawl of her Kachin traditional costume.
It was an occasion to thank God for the faithfulness of the Catholic community through the years even through the dark years of oppression. What was striking was the significant contribution that the Catholic Church has made to the country in its outreach to the poor and oppressed and especially in the areas of health and education. Overall, Christians are thought to make up about four percent of Myanmar’s 51 million population — around 500,000 of them Catholics.
Portuguese traders are thought to have brought Catholicism to Myanmar in 1510 as they tried to extend their missionary out-reach from their Indian settlement in Goa.
The work of the missionaries, including Columban Missionaries, was acknowledged, celebrated and appreciated. Early missionaries had to contend not only with the ferocious heat and malarial jungles that had defeated formidable armies, but also the deep reservations of local people. The continued missionary commitment of the Church in Myanmar is an answer “to the sacrifices of the missionaries who arrived here”, said the Archbishop, as Catholics continue to choose the approach and the spirit of the Good Shepherd “in reaching those who are outside the parish structures” and have not received the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation.
It was good to have had Sister Ann Gray here to represent the whole congregation at this celebration. Mary Ita O’Brien, Theresa Kim and Kathleen Geaney also attended.