MUMBAI, India – One of Asia’s top cardinals says the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is a “frightening” time and presents a “big challenge to our faith.”
Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, was speaking during his homily for Divine Mercy Sunday
“Our planet is wounded. Wounded by a virus – not visible to the eyes,” the cardinal said. “The evil virus has prevented public grieving. Thousands are buried unwept, unsung in unmarked graves. Even those of living cannot live together. Humanity’s oneness remains broken.”
Despite sharing a border with China – the origin of the coronavirus – Myanmar has only 117 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 5 recorded deaths. However, some human rights groups have accused the government of underreporting the extent of the spread of the virus in the country.
The World Bank said Monday it has approved $50 million in emergency financing to help Myanmar improve its hospital system to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
The bank’s office in Myanmar said in a statement that the credit would be used mostly to increase the capacity of intensive care units at selected hospitals and to build the skills of hospital staff and officials, in addition to promoting community engagement.
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Asia and its public health infrastructure is considered weak.
The World Bank said the project will cover eight central hospitals and 43 regional and state hospitals around the country, starting with those in areas considered most at risk, such as densely populated areas and places serving as travel hubs.
Bo said that Myanmar has been “mercifully” spared the “ferocity of this virus that visited even rich countries like America.”
Turning to the effect of the worldwide pandemic on issues of faith, the cardinal said “all of us need o grasp the true meaning of God.”
“There has been some erratic reflection of this COVID pandemic as a punishment of God. Today’s readings talk about the lack of faith of Thomas. Yes, even those who walked with Jesus could not believe in the power of his resurrection. These are days when God’s presence and his providence comes under great query. We understand that fear,” Bo said. “Our own faith constantly tells us that God never punishes.”
He added that, “We are living through a time frightening and often a big challenge to our faith. The Easter message of an empty tomb – of Jesus’s victory over sin is marred by the empty churches. The place where all of us gathered to pray as a family to our God remains closed. Thousands have died and millions are infected.”
Bo said it is “easy to lose faith” in such circumstances, but the message of the Divine Mercy devotion helps the Church overcome this temptation.
The Divine Mercy devotion stem from the apparitions of apparitions of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska in the 1930’s in Poland. At her canonization in the year 2000, St. John Paul II officially instituted the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.
“In these dark moments, Sister Faustina’s diary of her conversations with God helps us to fortify our faith. Sister Faustina writes: Jesus is God’s message of Mercy,” Bo said. “Yes. Mercy need to be our way of worshipping God in these times of suffocating darkness of hopelessness. We may be prevented from public participation of Liturgy; but Mercy becomes our new form of Liturgy.”
He explained that social distancing and avoiding one another may save our lives, “but these are the times when we need to pray for others, spend time in thinking of others. Mercy becomes the new liturgy. We are united: May not be in churches built of stones, but in a church built through acts of Mercy.”
The cardinal noted the coronavirus has attacked everyone: “Neither the rich or the poor, neither this race or that race escaped the wrath of this virus.”
“When Mercy becomes our life motivation, we can win together any virus,” he said.
Earlier this month, Bo laid the blame for the coronavirus on the doorstep of China’s communist government, saying it has the “primary responsibility” for the pandemic which has put much of the world under lockdown.
In a statement at the beginning of April, the cardinal listed a series of failures by the communist regime in addressing the crisis: Authorities suppressed the news and silenced whistleblowers; the government refused initial offers of help from the international community; and he accused the communist party of conducting a misinformation campaign on the origins of the virus.
“Lies and propaganda have put millions of lives around the world in danger,” Bo said.
He said through its “inhumane and irresponsible handling of the coronavirus” the Chinese communist regime “has proven what many previously thought: That it is a threat to the world.”