Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and government officials attend the service marking the centennial of Myanmar’s main Christian place of worship. The pope’s blessing and best wishes for the country’s development are read out. Mass and homily are read in English, Burmese and ethnic minority dialects.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Celebrations for the centennial of the Cathedral of Saint Mary in Yangon, Myanmar’s most important Christian place of worship, provide an opportunity to stress the universal principles of religious freedom and education as foundations of human development. The service was held in the presence of Card Renato Raffaele Martino, who performed the service and delivered a message from Benedict XVI, Yangon Archbishop Charles Bo, local and foreign bishops as well as a hundred co-celebrating priests from around the country. The building itself has undergone three years of renovation, which restored it to its original glory. Pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as government representatives attended the service, including an official from the Religious Affairs Ministry.

In order to facilitate comprehension, the homily was read in English and Burmese. During the religious service, local dialects were also used to reflect the country’s linguistic and ethnic mosaic.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr John Paul Zaw Min Aye, procurator of the Archdiocese of Yangon, confirmed the joy experienced by the faithful on this day of celebration, which he describes “as an important step for our Church”. For this reason, “let us thank God for the grace and gift we have received.”

“We welcome with happiness the pope’s blessing, as well as his best wishes for Burma’s Catholics and for people of other faiths, that the country’s well-being may improve,” said a priest who was visibly moved by the pope’s message. Burma’s Catholic community, he added, is getting ready this Christmas to “receive the spirit of Jesus among us”.

On the sidelines of the ceremony, the Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (pictured) met Card Martino and Mgr Bo. Local sources told AsiaNews that many government officials present at the event also met Catholic leaders to pay their respect. A top official from the Religious Affairs Ministry urged Christians “to participate as much as possible to the country’s development,” stressing the importance of their contribution.

Yangon cathedral is Myanmar’s main Christian place of worship and one of the most important in all of Asia. Built in the Gothic style, it has undergone major renovation in the past three days. The ravages of time, the 1930 earthquake, World War 2 bombs and cyclone Nargis of 2008 had made renovation a must. The work that was just completed entailed among things the replacement of 88 stained glass windows made by Thai artists. Some show the 12 apostles and the life of Christ. A light was also placed behind the statue of the Immaculate to make it visible at night.

(Source: http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Centennial-celebrations-for-St-Mary-Cathedral-focus-on-religious-freedom-and-education-23397.html)