In a blog post of June 16, 2017, I described the ways in which I was affected by the story of Maura Clark, Maryknoll missionary who was found in a shallow grave with three other women in El Salvador in December 1980. (A Radical Faith: The Assassination of Sister Maura by Eileen Markey, 2016). I felt and still feel guilty about not knowing all that had been going on in El Salvador and wondered how I did not know. (I am now reading the letters of a second woman of the four – Ita Ford – but more on that in another post.)
I now know part of the reason for my intentional ignorance. I cannot bear to watch television news programs or even read local newspapers. I do read America magazine and get a Jesuit perspective on world news, despite the fact that news often lags a couple weeks. I think I may have found a way out of my ignorance, even if only a partial solution. For the past couple nights, I have recorded the PBS Newshour. When I watch it later, I can be selective about the news or people I want to follow.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Last night, the Newshour interviewed two people about the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The situation is every bit as tragic as that of Central and South America in the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike Central and South America, I do not have a personal connection with Myanmar, because I have never traveled there and am not in contact with anyone from that country. Yet, I don’t want to repeat my ignorance of the past.
The Rohingya people, the majority of whom are Muslim, live in the Rakhine State in the western region of Myanmar, formerly called Burma. They are not recognized as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, despite the fact that 1.1 million Rohingya live in Rakhine. They have been denied citizenship since 1982, when other groups were nationalized.
Rejected by the country they call home and unwanted by its neighbors, the Rohingya are impoverished, virtually stateless, and have been fleeing Myanmar in droves and for decades. (“Who Will Help Myanmar’s Rohingya?” BBC News, January 2017) Indeed, who will help the Rohingya people. The UN Human Rights Office, Amnestry International, Human Rights Watch, and other humanitarian organizations are attempting to address the situation and bring relief to hundreds of thousands of people. However, media access in heavily limited. Furthermore, this is an “undeclared civil war.” As such, international organizations like the Red Cross cannot intervene with humanitarian aid.
Like me, you may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the tragedy and the feeling of powerlessness when you watch the news. It is easy to feel paralyzed in this situation. Today’s Gospel (Luke 11:15-26) is about casting out demons – not one of my favorite topics. However, the reflection in Give Us This Day was a message that I needed to hear today. It was written by Karl Rahner, a German Jesuit, who has made a profound contribution to Catholic theology in the 20th century.
That is why the Christian as such has always a cultural mission . . . [But] this world in which culture, humanity, and the creative design of God are to be realized is also a world in which there is evil and darkness and hell. . . . We are still laborers who must bear the heat and the burden of the day, who will never fully achieve the mission on which we are sent: for the fact remains that this culture, toward which we have a mission and a duty, which we are to perfect in a Christian manner, which we are continually to purify from the power of darkness and of evil, will only reach its fulfillment in the kingdom of God. Before that comes about, we can with the finger of God show signs here and there that the kingdom of God has come into this world in the form of something bright and wholesome, something sound and true. More than this we cannot do. (Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year)
May God prosper efforts to restore justice for the Rohingya people and all oppressed peoples. Amen.