Bo is the first cardinal in the history of Burma, also known as Myanmar, a country with a population of 54 million people bordering China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India.
Since his appointment as Archbishop of Yangon, the former capital city, in 2003, he has emerged as a leading advocate for democracy in the country.
In his message, the cardinal emphasized that he was writing as a spiritual leader.
“We are journeying through most challenging times of our history,” he said. “I write with love towards all, seeking a durable solution, praying for an end forever to the periodic darkness that envelops our dear nation.”
The cardinal, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, boldly challenged Burma’s new military rulers, known as the Tatmadaw, to fulfill their promise to restore civilian rule. The armed forces took power alleging fraud during last November’s elections, won by the NLD.
“When, in 2015, a peaceful transition to the elected government was effected by the Army, that won the admiration of the world,” Bo wrote.
“Today the world tries to understand what went wrong in the following years. Was there a lack of dialogue between the elected civilian authorities and the Tatmadaw?”
Referring to Burma’s troubled history since it gained independence from Britain in 1948, he continued: “We have seen so much pain in conflicts. Seven decades of shedding blood and the use of violence brought no results.”
“You all promised peace and genuine democracy. Democracy was the streak of hope for solving the problems of this once rich country. This time millions voted for democracy. Our people believe in peaceful transfer of power.”
Questioning the military’s rationale for taking power, the 72-year-old cardinal said: “Allegations of voting irregularities could have been solved by dialogue, in presence of neutral observers. A great opportunity was lost. Many leaders of the world have condemned and will condemn this shocking move.”
“Now you promise greater democracy -- after investigation and another election. Myanmar people are tired of empty promises. They will never accept any fake protestation.”
“You also promise to hold multiparty elections after one year. How will you gain the trust of our people? They will trust only when words are matched by sincere actions.”
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Pope Francis visited Burma, a majority Buddhist country, in 2017. He met with Aung San Suu Kyi as well as Min Aung Hlaing, the army general who now leads Burma following the coup.
Speaking during an in-flight press conference after the visit, the pope told reporters: “This general asked me to speak. And I received him. I never close the door. You ask to speak and enter. Speaking you never lose anything, you always win.”
“It was a beautiful conversation. I couldn’t say because it was private, but I didn’t negotiate the truth. But I did it in a way that he understood a bit that the path as it was during the nasty times renewed again today isn’t viable. It was a good meeting, civilized and also there the message arrived.”
Urging the armed forces not to use violence against the civilian population, Bo said: “Sadly, the elected representatives of our people belonging to NLD are under arrest. So are many writers, activists and youth.”
“I urge you, respect their rights and release them at the earliest. They are not prisoners of war; they are prisoners of a democratic process. You promise democracy; start with releasing them.”