Joy of Christmas in the midst of Myanmar's excluded

Members of the Myanmar Jesuit Mission bring Christmas joy at the most difficult of times in war-affected Kachin state

Myanmar, formerly Burma, known for her vibrancy in her name as the Golden land for her pristine Buddhist tradition and plentiful natural resources, was once the richest nation in South East Asia.

Culturally she has been a colorful country with eight major tribes and 135 sub tribes.

But, today her reputation is shattered and has become a ‘burning Myanmar’ in the eyes of the world!

Why do I say today's Myanmar is a ‘burning Myanmar’? All because, we encounter more today - the ethnic armies defending territory in conflict with Tatmadaw, the national army of Myanmar.

The net result has been an extensive displacement of persons: internally, the Kachin IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and externally, the stateless Rohinya Refugees. We also encounter a non-recognizing factor by Myanmar for her own Karenni returnees!

Still further, we see and experience a massive unsafe migration abroad, as well as internally; a widespread production and use of drugs within; human trafficking of our young girls; an exploitation of the country's rich natural resources; neglected social services, poor health care providers and placing less importance on social conscience based creative and critical thinking in educational centers and overstressing of ‘memorizing method’ approach.

Seeing this current stinking situation, as members of the Myanmar Jesuit Mission, we are called in a greater manner to engage together with the Catholic Church and others in Myanmar nation-building, based on Gospel values - by committing to spiritual, educational, socio-pastoral ministries and to form the youth of Myanmar nation and in particular the formation of our young native Jesuits.

While generally such ministries are ongoing, in particular I would like to share about how we have brought the joy of Christmas in the midst of the excluded at this time of COVID-19 Christmas 2020 in upper Myanmar’s Myitkyina, a capital town of the internal war affected Kachin State since 2011.

The actual Incarnation of God’s Son Jesus in the midst of the human community is so powerful.

After celebrating the vigil and morning Masses for the pandemic limited faithful members, the whole afternoon of 25th was spent by our St. Luke’s College resident staff, a few students and me in sharing the joy of Christmas in the presence of the displaced (in four camps), disabled (physically and visually) and disadvantaged (orphans, HIV patients, neighbourhood poor children).

Though the world may consider these ‘3d brothers and sisters’ of ours as excluded, we considered them as our beloved ones and we reached out from our college campus to their life situation to include them in our joy of Christmas celebration.

(3d - displaced, disabled & disadvantaged)

What does it profit a man if he gains Doctoral academic knowledge but loses one’s own sense of humor?

This triggered me as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and my external Christmas preparation of growing my white beard since March 2020 to become the Santa Claus for this Christmas.

No artificial beard but a natural beard and the Santa costume added joyful atmosphere in such stress-filled IDP camps and other centers.

People of the campus and the neighbors are aware of our ongoing life-mission as something incarnational and we, the staff and students, continue our catechetical socio-pastoral formation of teaching-learning from our class rooms and the 3d brothers and sisters’ living cribs.

It is possible because of our ongoing reading, reflecting and realizing how the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us! (cf. Jn 1:14)

May the child Jesus of the Crib become the guiding star in leading us to such current living cribs!

Text and photos provided by Fr. Girish Santiago, SJ
Associate Director, St. Luke’s College,
Edin, Myitkyina, Myanmar

Published December 27, 2020

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