As we stand amidst this scintillating beauty of mountains today, our hearts are filled with joy, gratitude and excitement. This is a land of exquisite beauty. The arrogant mountains that gaze at us from far and near were witnesses to great history in this land, the coming of the Good News through the PIME missionaries and other great religious, the great awakening among the Akahs, Lahus, Lishus toward Christianity.
These graceful people today welcome all of us, their new bishop. Ten years ago, when we gathered here for the centenary celebrations of the diocese, the charming prince of this diocese Bishop Peter Louis Caku, spread a great feast for all of us. We remember this great shepherd, whose spirit, we are sure, is hovering over this function.
I have been blessed with many visits to this diocese. Every time the gathering truly reminds us of the Pentecostal gathering where people of various languages heard the great message of liberation. Kengtung diocese has a charm and grace unparalleled in other parts of the country. Their faith and fortitude, their tenacity amidst historical challenges, their generosity with offering their sons and daughters to the service of the church, stand witness to a vibrant church.
Today our hearts of filled with gratitude to the warm welcome you are according to Bishop John Saw Yaw Han and all of us. I deeply appreciate the unity and warmth shown by the priests of this diocese. The sudden and sorrowful death of your shepherd, Bishop Peter Louis, shattered your sensibilities, yet your showed admirable cohesion, facing the multi-dimensional crises that fell on the diocese for the last three years. The faithful of Yangon will surely miss the gentile and genial Bishop John. To them our gratitude for their generosity.
Bishop John is not new to this place. As young priest he volunteered as member of Donum Fidei in Kengtung Diocese from 1997-1998. Like many apostles who were born in a place but called to proclaim the Good News, the bishop was born in Sagaing division, joined the Yangon diocese, but spent a major part of his life in formation of priests to all the dioceses. In his farewell speech in Yangon, he gratefully acknowledged that this call to this diocese is God’s grace, and as a loyal son of the Catholic Church, he is called to serve the Universal Church in any capacity, anywhere. We were deeply touched by his farewell words.
“We all understand that missionaries are for all the people of all places. Through our love, humility, and services, every place is our home, and all are our relatives whom we meet.”
Yes, he comes here as your relative, related through Christ, in communion with Jesus’ mission. Yes. He is your father, related in faith.
I have heard many definitions as bishop, but this endearing terms: every place is our home, and all our relatives. The connection of a Good shepherd is first of all a relationship.
This is the concept of relationship with one another is the great theme of our Pope. We are all called to a relationship. Christianity is about relationship. Our God, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
The pope carries this concept of relationship to a much higher level: his three major documents talk of three relationships: Relationship with God ( Joy of the Gospel), Relationship with nature (Laudato Si), and relationship with one another.
This is the first task of the new bishop. Building right relationships. As we know that God has never been found wanting in generosity to the people of Myanmar. Many have pointed out that this country is the real Garden of Eden. Kengtung and its abundant natural beauty and resources point out that God has a special love for you.
But this is also a challenged land – human trafficking, drug trafficking. Saddling three nations: Myanmar, Thailand and China, our sons and daughters have been reduced to vassals, forced into modern forms of slavery, deprived of all God-given riches. Exploiters and merchants of death have blundered this land. The diocese needs to protect its youth from multi-dimensional risks to the next generation. The youth of this diocese need to be protected from drugs, distress migration, lack of opportunities. As the pope cautioned us: The youth may not come to the Church, but the Church needs to go to the youth.
That is possible only with unity. Diversity is a dignity. Yes, we do not belong to the same tribe or same language group. We either stand together or fall together. I am glad and proud to know the priests and religious of this diocese can speak more than two languages easily and move from one culture to another so easily.
We have great admiration for all the priests and religious in this diocese, the moving witness of Catholic families offering their sons and daughters to the mission of Jesus, serving the Church all over Myanmar and elsewhere.
Unity based on our love to Jesus and his mission alone will fortify us, as St Paul asserted: In Jesus, there is neither Jew, nor gentile, neither master nor slave. We are all many but one in Christ. Our Communion in Jesus word and bread will unite us.
That is what the pope calls as Fratelli Tutti: all of us are brothers and sisters. A respectful and genuine love for one another, following the great commandment of Jesus: Love one another as I love you. By that all will know that you are my disciples.
The new bishop comes to a land blessed with so much natural resources. The beauty of this land is alluring. Look at all these mountains, standing and staring at us as great sages. They have seen our forefathers and mothers. This is your land. This was your promised land, really flowing with milk and honey. But sadly, her riches are also the great curse, with war, conflict and looting destroying your sacred relationship. The pope calls for respectful relationship with nature in his path-breaking encyclical: Laudato Si. Our people need to return to their land, from the exile of unsafe migration, victimized by heartless human trafficking mafias.
The third relationship the bishop will nurture is your love for the living, loving and liberating God. Even hundred years ago, when the PIME missionaries set foot on this land, they were surprised to see the sense of mystery and divine among the people even in the remote mountains, like those people St Paul evangelized. Today your sons and daughters are carrying that Good News to all corners of the earth.
It is so glad to see that we are not expounding a theology of bishop. We are talking about relationship. About love. That is what God the Father wanted with all of us, as John says in his Gospel, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”
I am sure, the natural gifts of Bishop John, his humility, his availability, and his simplicity will nurture an empowering and endearing relationship. Bishop John is also an erudite scholar, a gentle and kind human being, an able administrator, a professional theologian and a writer.
This qualities are needed. When Jesus chose his disciples, he gave a great metaphor for a church leader: Good Shepherd. The shepherd who knows the sheep, the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep. The shepherd who keeps his flock united, the shepherd who leads the sheep to the new pastures, protecting them from every danger.
Pope Francis defined the role of the bishop in very moving words: go to the sheep and come back with the smell of the sheep. To be a shepherd in this country today is a challenge; the shepherd who goes to the sheep will find his sheep have been wounded, bloodied and broken and shattered, starving, shivering in fear and anxiety. What was created as Garden of Eden, mutilated into Gethsemane, the Golgotha hill. Yes, the risk of the Shepherd going to the sheep today, he risks coming back not only with the smell of the sheep, smell of the blood and tears of the sheep. To accompany the people, all of us need to accompany our shepherds in our prayers. Your simple but precious prayers are needed not only for your bishops, your priests, religious and all church personnel.
As a synodal church, we journey together. That Journey with your new shepherd starts today. Each family, each household become integral part of that journey. Each family is a mini church. We are many parts, but as diocese we are one in Christ. We need to shepherd our roles so that the Bishop as a Shepherd leads us ahead.
When I think of the task of a shepherd, the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus comes to my mind. One sister was in deep conversation, another one in service, the brother in proclaiming Jesus coming. In them I see the three major great tasks of the Church: to worship God, to care for the poor, and to evangelize. Yes in Kengtung, these are the three priorities to the new bishop and every Catholic family.
The Church assigns specific tasks to the role of the bishop: he is to “teach, sanctify and govern.” That means that he must:
- Oversee the preaching of the Gospel and Catholic education in all its forms;
- Oversee and provide for the administration of the sacraments; and
- Legislate, administer, and act as judge for canon law matters within his diocese.
In all these he needs to be supported and guided by the family of priests. We are a fragile Church. Our unity is consciously tested. In these dark moments there are great expectations from our people. The faithful have been faithful to us always: are we faithful to the faithful. That is a painful question when bad witness destroys our people’s faith in the Church of Christ. We are wounded healers; our unity and soothing witness will heal our people. They look up to the Church and its priests and religious. Jesus continues to pray “that all may be one.”
Let a new journey of hope start today. Let there be a dream of peace and reconciliation in this country. Let this nation which has seen so much of wounds, tears and brokenness rise to its God given promise of peace and prosperity. Let the dream of Isaiah come true: Let these mountains that bore mute witness to our people’s suffering, rise up to a glorious future where there will not be any more tears:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them….
The nursing child shall play over the hole of a serpent
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the
knowledge of the Lord. as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
Yes, this installation brings hope of new dawn. The words of Isiah: “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountains” come true. May every one of you gathered here to this new pilgrimage of hope with the new shepherd be blessed and protected by Lord’s hand.