Burma’s Cardinal Bo calls for ‘war’ against coronavirus as cases continue to surge

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon. / Archdiocese of Yangon.

Yangon, Myanmar, Jul 19, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Burma’s Archdiocese of Yangon called for a unity to fight the spread of the coronavirus disease in the already devastated Southeast Asian country.

“Please, please stop all the conflicts,” appealed the cardinal in a message as the country marked Martyrs’ Day, a national holiday to commemorate the killing of Myanmar’s founding leaders in 1947.

“The only war we need to wage is against the lethal invisible virus, which proved to be invincible even to superpowers of the world,” said Cardinal Bo.

On Sunday, at least 231 died of the disease, a little bit lower from the record 233 on Saturday. Health workers and funeral services, however, said the death toll is much higher.

Health ministry records show that the total official death toll has risen 50 percent this month to 5,000 with the spread of the Delta variant that has surged in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Burma’s health system has foundered in recent months after health workers refused to work and joined a civil disobedience movement to protest the February 1 military coup that ousted the country’s political leaders.

“As the COVID spirals out of control, inflicting fear, anxiety and death, the only way we can pay homage to the martyrs’ sacrifice is to come together as one nation against the pandemic,” said Cardinal Bo.

“This is not the time for inflicting wounds. This is the time to heal,” he added.

Military leaders have earlier on Sunday issued an appeal for volunteers in a statement broadcast on state television.

Cardinal Bo, however, said authorities should facilitate the “secure participation” of health workers and volunteers in fighting “the existential threat to us as a nation.”

“United we save lives; divided we will bury thousands. History will be the harshest judge if we fail in compassion,” said the Catholic Church leader.

“Let us come together. We have faced many challenges as a people and as a nation. We will face this challenge together,” he said.

Several Catholic priests and religious in the country have succumbed to COVID-19 in recent weeks.

On July 18, Father Alexander Thein Kyaw, a member of the Order of Servants of Mary congregation in Yangon, died of the disease. He was the first priest from the archdiocese to die of COVID-19.

In the Diocese of Kalay, Father Sebastian Phun Lian Mawi and Sister Hilda Vung Go Dim of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Aloysius died on July 14 and 15, respectively.

Meanwhile, funeral workers said hundreds more bodies than usual are being taken for burial as the new wave of COVID-19 cases continues to surge.

In Yangon, about 200 bodies are buried per day over the past week in one cemetery alone. Similar increases were also noted at two other cemeteries in the city with 400 to 500 people being cremated per day.

In his homily during Sunday Mass, Cardinal Bo lamented the “staggering” situation in the country.

“Now every breath has become a challenge. Day and night thousands are struggling to breathe. This deadly pandemic is stealing the basic gift of nature,” he said, adding that oxygen, “which is freely available in the air, has suddenly become a precious commodity.”