By Cardinal Charles Bo

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, presented the following homily during the episcopal ordination of Monsignor John Saw Gawdy in Myanmar’s Taungngu Diocese in Leitho township on November 29.

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My dearest Brothers and Sisters of the Taungngu diocese and all the well-wishers gathered here today.  Peace be with you.   May the mighty name of Jesus bless you all with good health, joy, and fellowship of the Christian Community.

This day is a great event like the celebration of 150 years PIME Jubilee you had two years ago in Leiktho.   It was like the Pentecostal day thousands gathered as various tribes:   Gheba Kayins, Ghekho Kayins, Sgaw Kayins, Bwe Kayins, Sokhu Kayins, Burmese, Indians, Chinese, Kayahs, Kayaws, and Shans.   Real Pentecostal day.

Today we start new life, advent season.    The readings today talk of the expectation:  the birth of the Messiah.  With the prophet in the first reading, we pray “Come down lord from Heaven and bless this event”. With Paul in the second reading of Corinthians, we pray: Come and show your face Lord today and bless us.  The Gospel asks us to be ready to receive the Lord.    Christ is coming.  A new bishop is coming to you.  What a joy!

This is a double Christmas.  Happy Christmas!

Let me start with gratitude to our mighty Lord, who blesses this diocese with countless blessings    Let us remember three great blessings of this diocese.

  1. The first blessing that comes to my mind is: Our Great PIME missionaries.

Like St Paul, St Francis Xavier, the sons, and daughters of Italy came here as PIME and Reparation Missionaries.   Hundreds of them came here and died here. Surely their spirit is hovering over this function today.    They lived a great sacrificial life, lived during the war, they were in prison, some even died as martyrs.  Fr Alfredo Cremonesi is our own martyr and saint. It is their sweat and blood watered this historic diocese which gave birth to six other dioceses. They shared knowledge about farming and built buildings.   They will be proud of each one of you to see this church flourishing.

  1. The second blessing is the protection of the church through its pastoral bishops.

This Diocese was erected in 1955.  We are grateful:  Your diocese has survived great wars, oppression, displacement, death, and destruction.  Your survival is a miracle.    The Good Shepherd sent two great pastors to care for you.    First came   Bishop Sebastian U She Yauk bishop for 27 years, a simple and humble man. Later bishop Isaac Danu came in 1989 Sept.     For more than a half-century, these two men steered the diocese through great struggles.  An era ends today and a new era starts today.

I thank the Lord for the Blessing of Bishop Danu today.  This is a great day for my special friend Bishop Isaac Danu. I had the great honor and privilege to be present for his Priestly Ordination of Isaac Danu in Yado (06- April 1975) when I was still a cleric.  I was also present for his   Episcopal Ordination in LEIKTHO 17 – Jan 1985 (as a priest).   After his marathon run of 35 years as a bishop, he hands over the baton to the new and energetic shepherd   Monsignor John Saw Gawdy.

He was at home in every poor house in his mission visit, he can sleep on the floor on a mat and a pillow.    He was not very choosy about food, as long as the “the betel nut box” was near him.    Bishop Danu spent more time in the mission stations than in the Centre.  His health suffered.  Twice he had operations but he never gave up touring.  Truly a great missionary.   Big thank you, dearest Bishop Danu.  You deserve a joyful rest.

 That brings us to the next blessing: The Gift of the new shepherd.  Monsignor John Saw Gawdy – the John the Baptist to the Diocese of Taungngu. He is the Good Shepherd who will lead the diocese to the green pastures.  Glory to God for this gift.

His motto is the motto given by John the Baptist to Jesus:  Behold the lamb of God.

Today he is a much-respected scholar and holy priest. But as a young student, he was like other boys, involved in all pranks.  But as he grew old, he became very serious with his studies.  As a seminarian, he excelled in telling stories, stories that uplift any downhearted soul.  He attracted many seminarians in his company with his great storytelling talent.  I am sure he will retell the story of this great diocese.   He is a strict disciplinarian with a heart that accommodates everyone.   He is a pastor in every way: in dealing with the people, he loves the poor.

God has sent another John the Baptist to a prophetic role of bringing a new awakening to the diocese. He is called upon to follow the great saint with:

            A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation

Like his patron, he is called to proclaim an integral Evangelization: saving souls, liberating people from all kinds of suffering.  He is qualified.  He is a scholar.  We warmly welcome him.  Our prayer is:  Let there be hundredfold yield in his administration.

The power of the bishop lies in his pastoral care of his flock.   He does that through his three-fold task.

  • Diakonia:  The service of the community – care for the weak.
  • Liturgia: presiding in place of God over the flock, building the communion of communities.
  • Kerygma:  The ministry of teaching and deepening the faith of the people, with the help of the priests, religious and catechists.

In modern days, Bishops are also called upon to plan for greater socio pastoral effectiveness, good in governance.  Our new Bishop is an expert in governance.

Allow me to identify the mission of the Bishop before we consecrate the new bishop:

  1. Bishop as the Sign of Unity, as head of the local church:  Bishop is the head of the local church.  All the priests take a vow to obey the bishop in mission.   Without unity, there is no church.  Ignatius of Antioch called upon priests and people to obey the Bishop.   Help him to implement the mission of Christ.
  2. Bishop as a Prophet– The Bishop continues the work of Jesus: Proclamation of God’s Kingdom.  Jesus was the messiah. Jesus was the Word. Jesus broke the Word. He proclaimed:   He came to announce God’s Good news to the whole of humanity, his redemption.
  3. Bishop as a Pastor – a shepherd:  The enduring symbol of the bishop his crozier. The crozier is a pastoral staff that is conferred on bishops at their installation. In the West, the top of the staff is curved to remind the bishop of the shepherd’s crook and of his pastoral care of the people entrusted to him.
  4. Planner– In Chapter 14 of Luke verses 28-33, Jesus speaks of discipleship.  One of the qualities of the disciple is the ability to plan.  He gives the example of a man planning to build a house.   Another is about a king about to plan a war against another king.  Both needed to plan

Some practical guidelines to the new bishop and the Taungngu Diocese:

In this as your shepherd and brother, I would like to take some concrete issues the new Bishop must face.   I based it not on my own opinion.    I base it on two teachings of  Pope Francis and Pope Benedict’s understanding of mission.:

  • Bishop as the missionary of integral Evangelization:  In Vatican II and through the terms of three Popes: St John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis, they have introduced the concept of Integral evangelization:  We are not only worried about the soul.  We are worried about people as persons with body and soul. We work for the development of the human person and the salvation of the soul.  Salvation of the soul (Jn 3:16) and the liberation of the suffering people from all social evils like poverty, oppression and lack of rights (Luke 4: 16-19) are two eyes of Church mission.   I urge the new bishop to undertake this integral Evangelization as the motto of the diocese.
  • Bishop as the promoter of Integral Human development:  Pope Francis has brought greater sensitivity to human development.  He has mainstreamed economic Justice (Evangelium Gaudium) and Environmental Justice (Laudato Si). Christian vocation is to create opportunity for the fullest growth.  He has created a Dicastery of Integral Human Development.  The holistic development of our poor people towards ‘life, life in full’ (Jn 10:10) is an integral part of the church mission.

Kindly allow me to help the new Bishop with some of my observations for these two-fold missions :

Blessings of your people:

  • Your people are very simple, very faithful, very prayerful
  • The priests live with the people, in a simple way, not many problems and they do not give many problems to the Bishop
  • Good number of vocations both men and women.

These are the blessings: Let there be more blessings with the new bishop.

What are the challenges to the new bishop.?

  1. Poverty and isolation:  Our people are very poor, they suffer a lot, they are isolated from outside world.  The diocese urgently needs to be open to the world.   The next generation needs to be developed.   Sometimes the Taungngu diocese gives the impression, because of historical reasons and suffering, it was isolated and did not reach out to the national level or even international level.   Human resource development is an area of great concern.   I urge the priests to kindly end the geographical and intellectual isolation. Get involved in upgrading the skills.    Update everything.  Preach to a modern generation
  2. Need for a Missionary mentality:  Pope Francis talks about missionary mentality, a mentality that is not satisfied with the minimum doing.  It is a mentality that looks for new ideas, new activity, new dreams.   Socially and spiritually we need to develop the diocese.  That is the expectation of the people.
  3. I appreciate the great contribution of the Congregation of St Joseph of Reparation. You are great people.  Wonderful missionaries.    But I urge you, your number are big, that gives a great opportunity to train sisters in more skills.   You can bring greater development to your people if your sisters are well trained.
  4. Great catechists, our people of God, you are the church.  You need to participate in the proclamation of the Gospel to the modern generation.  So, build your capacities.  Make poverty history through education and empowerment.

Catholic Church in Myanmar has worked out a major Nation-building plan:  Education, Integral Human development, women development, Indigenous rights, and justice and Peace through inter religious dialogue.  These are like five loaves.  We can multiply and share with five thousand loaves.   I urge the diocese to undertake a robust pastoral plan that integrates the major five themes.

Let there be showers of blessings, let there be peace, prosperity, and good health to all of you.  In the mighty name of Jesus, I wish blessings of advent and Christmas.   Let us continue to pray for the new bishop, his mission, and guidance from the holy spirit.  Rejoice and be glad the Lord has blessed you abundantly on this day!

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