A stolen future

In Myanmar, the introduction of the conscription law is a daily preoccupation, where many of the Region’s ministries serve young people.

 WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED  

By Fr Mark Raper SJ 

The choice facing a young person in Myanmar today is either to join the revolution or to be conscripted for the military under an old law now being enforced. Rather than fight “brother against brother”, tens of thousands of young men and women have chosen to run away. In the street near our Yangon community, eighteen young men disappeared in recent weeks. When last taking the flight out of Yangon, I saw three planes full of young men and women recruited by agents, leaving for Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Increasingly, passports are restricted for the youth; 23- to 31-year-olds are no longer issued permits to work abroad, so most cross illegally through the porous 2,000 km border that Myanmar shares with Thailand. 

Although I am currently back in Australia for a sabbatical, I was able this May to spend two weeks visiting the Jesuits and friends in Myanmar. From Christmas 2010 to March 2022, I was the Major Superior for the fast-growing Myanmar Region which now counts about 50 members, including seventeen Myanmar Jesuit priests. At first, I held other jobs as well and was based in Manila, but from 2017 moved to Yangon to reside. Since stepping down as Superior I continued as Development Officer and helped to build a network of community colleges.  

New community colleges start up each year. They all offer a curriculum of ‘Life Skills’, ‘Language Skills’ and ‘Livelihood Skills’, tailored to local opportunities and needs. Since many schools and universities are now inaccessible, these small, local community initiatives prepare young people to face the world and get a job. It is a formula borrowed from India. There are now around fifteen schools running in different parts of Myanmar.    

Apart from the network of community colleges, the Jesuit Region runs a teacher training college, a leadership institute, an English language program, an emergency outreach and a social outreach program in the Yangon slums, as well as a parish located in an area that is in an area where there is currently heavy conflict. There are many other activities in support of the local Church, as well as a house for candidates preparing to apply to join the Society and a novitiate.  At present, recently ordained priests are placed in half a dozen rural parishes, mostly in areas close to conflict.  Up to now all are safe.   

Since many of the Region’s ministries serve young people, the conscription law is a daily preoccupation for the youth and those who accompany them.  This is the world’s longest running violent conflict – 75 years of war since Independence in 1948. But in the last six months the violence has drastically worsened, with a five-fold increase in airstrikes against civilians. Three million people are forcibly displaced from their homes; thousands of homes and hundreds of public facilities, schools, monasteries, churches, hospitals and clinics have been bombed. The bitterness is deeply felt.  

For the youth, their future is stolen from them. The people tasted an alternative during the five-year leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  The politician, diplomat, author and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who served as State Counsellor of Myanmar and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2016 to 2021 is now 78 years old. Sentenced to 27 years imprisonment, she has been held incommunicado in solitary confinement since the coup d’état of 1 February 2021. 

Now is hardly a time to preach about reconciliation, but do pray that the Sun of Justice, now seemingly in eclipse, will again shine on Myanmar. 

In the words of Fr Mark Raper SJ (above, right): “New community colleges start up each year. Since many schools and universities are now inaccessible, these small, local community initiatives prepare young people to face the world and get a job. It is a formula borrowed from India. There are now around fifteen schools running in different parts of Myanmar.”  

More information at Myanmar is in a struggle for its life 

Fr Mark Raper SJ served for twenty years with Jesuit Refugee Service, first in Asia Pacific and then as International Director, setting in place the vision, methodologies and structure of JRS.  He spent the next twenty years as Provincial in Australia and Major Superior in Timor Leste and Myanmar, including nine years as President of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific. He is currently on sabbatical in Brisbane.

To enquire about becoming a Jesuit in Australia, contact vocations@sjasl.org.au and for more info, visit our Vocations page.

Share This