Nos autem gloriari oportet in cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi, in quo est salus, vita, et resurrectio nostra, per quem salvati et liberati sumus.
We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.
–Entrance antiphon for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Pope Francis’ preferential option for the peripheries has been reflected, among other things, in his choice of cardinals, sometimes famously bypassing the expected “red-hat dioceses” in favor of sees, and sometimes entire countries, that have not had cardinals before. One of these, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), could be having his own Romero moment, following the soon-to-be-canonized Archbishop of San Salvador who was moved by the suffering of his most marginalized compatriots to become one of the strongest prophetic voices of the 20th-century Church.
He could be – but lately he has done just the opposite, echoing the Burmese government’s official line and all but denying its widely reported genocidal brutality against the country’s Rohingya population, dismissing it as a mere quirk of a young democracy, a bug to be worked out in due time.
It’s bad enough that erstwhile human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi has lost all moral authority by turning a brazenly blind eye to her military-led government’s atrocities. There goes another politician carrying messianic expectations who turned out to be, well, just another politician. Put not your trust in princes, the psalmist says (Ps. 146). The world has relearned this lesson countless times before. So much more for a prince of the Church – the body whose Head pronounced blessed the poor and persecuted – there can be no excuse for pandering to the powerful rather than pleading the cause of the vulnerable.
This is the Church selling out to the State at its ugliest. And it is rooted in the same impulse toward institutional self-protection that led to the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse. On this feast of the exaltation of the cross, it’s all the more reason (as if we needed any more reason) that our Church, the world over, needs a deeply kenotic reform, a turning (metanoia) from the world’s pursuit of power to the extreme humility of the cross, from self-protection to self-emptying, and to protecting the vulnerable above all else – even ahead of her very self. It is the only way for the Church to preserve her moral authority.
I realize that it is not costly for me to say this. I have no way of knowing what I would be doing or have occasion to do if I were a Burmese Catholic. Knowing me, I would probably be feeling frustrated and paralyzed; beyond that, I can’t say. I can only ask my fellow members of our universal Church to join me in prayer for Cardinal Bo:
Lord, strengthen your servant Charles whom you have called to shepherd your people. Turn his heart toward your beloved poor that it may break for them, and turn his eyes to see your suffering in theirs, as you did for your servant Oscar Romero. Give him the vision to see your image most especially in the Rohingya people and to feel the depth of your love for them. Give him and each of us the courage to choose the way of the cross over the path of least resistance, whatever it may require.