Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has said that “merciless killings” of protesters following a Feb. 1 military coup have turned Burma into a “21st-century Calvary.”

In an Easter message posted on the Facebook page of Yangon archdiocese March 31, the cardinal referred to the Epistle to the Romans in which St. Paul offers consolation to suffering Christians who, Bo said, are “crucified unjustly.”

“Five hundred of our countrymen and women were crucified,” he said, referring to the death toll estimated by the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

“We know for the last two months, Myanmar witnessed a real-time way of the cross. Torture, abuse, merciless killings made it the 21st-century Calvary. As brutality spread everywhere, depression and loss of faith crept in.”

The cardinal’s comments followed the deadliest day since protests began. On March 27, security forces reportedly killed at least 114 people, prompting observers to name the day Burma’s “Bloody Saturday.”

In his message, entitled “Let my country awake from the culture of death towards the culture of hopeful resurrection,” Bo said that the country officially known as Myanmar was experiencing the “saddest days” in its history.

“I know it is difficult to say ‘Happy Easter’ in Myanmar today,” he wrote. “The greatest feast of Christianity comes during the saddest days in Myanmar history. For the last two months our people have walked through a real way of the Cross. They continue to be on the Mount Calvary. Hundreds have been killed. A blood bath has flown on our sacred land.”

“Young and old and even the children have been mercilessly killed. Dark days. Thousands are arrested and thrown into prisons. Thousands are on the run escaping arrests. Millions are starving.”

Catholics, who represent around 1% of the population, have taken part in peaceful protests. Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier, came to global attention when she knelt before police in the city of Myitkyina, begging them not to attack protesters.

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Bo said in his message: “This Easter must start the process of healing this nation. A wounded nation can find solace in Christ who underwent all that we are undergoing: He was tortured, he was abused and he was killed on the cross by arrogant powers. He felt the same sense of abandonment by God, felt by so many of our Youth, as he cried out from the cross: ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me’ (Matthew 27:46). “

“But God in his glory has given Jesus the victory through resurrection. The message of the cross ends in the glory of resurrection.”

Bo is the first cardinal in the history of Burma, a country with a population of 54 million people bordering China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India.

Since he was appointed archbishop of Yangon, the former capital city, in 2003, he has emerged as a leading advocate for democracy in the country.

In his Easter message, he urged Burma’s population to take heart from the Resurrection.

“The way of the cross of Myanmar will never go in vain,” he said. “It will end in the resurrection of freedom, democracy, and peace, and prosperity to all.”

Burma’s military leaders seized power in the early hours of Feb. 1, alleging fraud during last November’s elections, won by the National League for Democracy. They detained Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s elected civilian leader, along with Burma’s President Win Myint.

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Bo said: “Let us resurrect the situation before the Feb. 1 coup. Let democracy be resurrected. End the coup as soon as possible. The world did not admit it. No amount of oppression can make our people accept it.”

The 72-year-old cardinal urged soldiers to stop attacking the country’s citizens and return to their barracks.

He also appealed to Burmese young people, at the forefront of the protests, not to turn to violence.

“More non-violent struggles succeeded in the 20th century than violent ones,” he said. “They attract a large section of the population. It wins the admiration of the world. The message of the cross is: even your enemy needs liberation from his hatred, as much as you seek your own liberation from his brutal oppression. People must affirm that enduring message of the cross.”

He concluded: “Do not die unnecessarily. If you live long, democracy is strengthened, the evil is weakened. The enemy knows only one language: ruthless violence. Silence that language.”

“He wants you to draw you into his violent turf, where he is powerful. Deny him that turf advantage. Defeat him with love, defeat him with humanity. That was the message of the cross. That is the destiny of this nation. Let a new Myanmar of peace and prosperity rise from the grave of hatred and darkness.”