As I prepare for Christmas this year, my thoughts are with the people of Myanmar with whom I have celebrated Christmas since 2007. I lived in a community in Mandalay. Our work there involves us in various education projects – seminars and teaching but always with the underlying principle that we are there to facilitate dialogue among different ethnic and more importantly different religious groups – Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems and Christians – the relevance and necessity of which is becoming ever more apparent in today’s world.
It is with this in view and in the spirit of Christmas that we invite members from the different religious communities to join us in our house within the church compound to share a meal. We sit and chat and wander around the compound looking at the Crib and the other Christian symbols which are new to the majority of them. We exchange stories. We gift each other with new insights, deeper understandings of each other and hopefully forge friendships that will dispel some of the misunderstandings and fear that exists between the different communities. Over the years this has become a tradition and we are frequently asked when ‘will the Christmas celebration be and can we come to visit you’
In another part of Myanmar – in the Kachen State – up near the China border, our sisters will be celebrating with people who are suffering from HIV in a Centre – set up with the purpose of not only helping to treat the illness but also with the hope of giving each one a sense that he/she matters as a person and is precious in the eyes of God.
Our sisters also have a Youth Training Center there that provides alternative education for many young people. The youth in the Kachen State are particularly vulnerable as they are often caught up in the civil war between the Kachen and Burmese armies. Many are unemployed and easily become drug victims – hence our sisters are involved in setting up of a drug rehabilitation program as well as a rural health program for communities living far from the center.
Again, I am sure that they are celebrating Christmas – an occasion to remember that in the midst of suffering and pain, there is still hope. My hope and my prayer is that as each of us continues to prepare for Christmas that we may experience ever more deeply the mystery, the wonder of God becoming a human being and the wonder of God’s presence in our own hearts, in the heart of each other and in the heart of the world.
by Sr. Margaret Murphy- missioned for many years in the Philippines, Myanmar and is presently in Ireland.