From the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
“The time is right for the Church to enter into new relationships with our sister churches in Asia, in particular with the Church of the Province of Myanmar,” said Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Dr Philip Freier, as he began a two-week visit to Myanmar, starting in Yangon.
The first day started with a visit to Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo, Archbishop of Myanmar, who visited Australia only last month, and then time with the Church’s national staff in development programs, youth work, Christian education, women’s and men’s work and communications.
Saw Kenneth, General Secretary of the Church of the Province of Myanmar, discussed how many Christians felt second-class citizens because they were a minority in a Buddhist country.
Archbishop Freier said after the meetings with Archbishop Stephen, Saw Kenneth and the team: “Can you imagine what it would be like to have a national network of schools and hospitals – among the best in the nation – and have them suddenly nationalised in 1962 with no price paid and no right to regain? This is what happened to the Anglican Church in Burma.
“But even after 60 years, the Anglican Church has never lost its sense of mission to the whole community. We visited in Yangon the Compassion Clinic, newly re-opened after being closed for decades, and now busy with medical and dental patients from people right across the nation, and from every ethnic and religious background, no questions asked. Their fortitude is remarkable.”
Medical director of the Compassion Clinic, Dr Isaac Mark, who formerly worked in refugee camps in Thailand, voiced his hopes for future renovation of the building, a former school, and employment of local doctors, nurses and midwives, as he conducted a tour of the clinic for the team.
The Archbishop of Melbourne’s team – which includes Mrs Joy Freier, Ms Denise Nichols, Mr Brad Chapman and Canon Alan Nichols – spent an hour with the Australian Ambassador to Myanmar, Ms Bronte Moules, who outlined Australia’s aid approach to Myanmar and discussed support for capacity building projects in Myanmar.
Dr Freier said: “From the briefings we have received, and now from the first few days on site, you can feel the sense of movement in the air – political, social and spiritual. What was not possible in terms of public protest, or the involvement of civil society groups like the churches, is happening day by day.
“Of course we understand that even in a climate of hope, some are sceptical of a military government which has ruled the country for 50 years, but just this past week there have been many statements on Union Day about the country pulling together towards a democratic future.
“Union Day here celebrates the signing of the Panlong Agreement in 1947 where the ethnic minorities signed a peace agreement with General Aung San, liberator of the country from both the Japanese and the British.
“It is Aung San’s daughter, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now the focus of people’s democratic hopes. The Anglican Church here, along with other minority groups in the country, wants to share as a full member of civil society in nation-building which gives expression to hopes for a democratic future, and the Melbourne Church is very happy to develop deeper partnership with them in this process.”
Archbishop Stephen said: “We are people of Myanmar first, then Anglican Christians. We are a legitimate part of civil society and we want to play our part.”
Melbourne Anglicans have for over 25 years supported the refugees in camps in Thailand, which have housed more than 150,000 Karen and Mon refugees. Many refugees have moved to Melbourne, particularly in the Werribee area. Other Anglican support from Australia over the past 20 years has been for small development projects inside the country, including income generation and women’s health.
On this team visit, the group will visit both Toungoo and Pa’an, two towns where Karen live, and to which many refugees will return in due course.