One of the most impressive voices for justice in the global Catholic Church is Cardinal Charles Bo of Burma, who has recently spoken out against Burma’s Buddhist nationalist government for its atrocious treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. Unlike few other Burmese, he has been willing to name openly his government’s actions as ones of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Indeed, the government of Burma has displaced over 100,000 Rohingya and subjected them to arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, summary executions, and similar forms of repression.
Religious freedom is a critical dimension of the issue. Rohingyas are targeted for being Muslims and have experienced their mosques and madrassas destroyed at the hands of the state as well as riotous citizens. When a Catholic Cardinal dares to speak of the oppression of Muslims, it lends unique credibility to the Catholic Church’s witness for religious freedom. The Church’s key document declaring religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae (1965) roots religious freedom in the religious nature of every human being. When Christians stand up for the religious freedom of others, they not only do what is just but enhance claims for their own religious freedom. Religious freedom is also an overlooked dimension of peace. When diverse religious communities respect one another’s members’ full citizenship rights, they have taken the critical step towards living together peacefully. As they must do in Burma.
Cardinal Bo gave a riveting address at the Under Caesar’s Sword conference in Rome in December 2015, by the way.