Praying for Peace
Bishop joins Burmese community at Mass for the Asian country
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
March 18, 2021
ROCKFORD—There are more than 180 Burmese who have been parishioners at St. James Church in Rockford for over a decade.
They and those in the greater Burmese community who attend other Christian churches came together the evening of March 13 at St. James Church in Rockford for a Mass of Peace. It is one of the Burmese community’s attempts to impact the difficult situation in Burma, now mostly known as Myanmar. 
The Burmese earlier had contacted Janet Biljeskovic, director of Refugee Resettlement Services of Catholic Charities in this diocese, to ask if there was some advocacy they could do. With her help, they sent a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace (who happens to be Rockford Bishop David Malloy) about the situation and their concerns for their country. Biljeskovic also contacted the refugee resettlement advocate at the USCCB, which is collecting letters and information from communities concerned for Myanmar nationwide.
Bishop Malloy wrote to the bishops’ conference in Myanmar to express solidarity. He also asked the U.S. government to “carefully consider the insights the local church can offer toward achieving a just solution to the current crisis,” and he called “on all Catholics and people of goodwill to pray for the people and leaders” of Myanmar.  
Additionally, Bishop Malloy offered to celebrate a Mass specifically for the Burmese community, and it was organized at St. James Church.
“I know they are not working just with us,” Biljeskovic says, noting an upcoming joint effort throughout the U.S. to hold peaceful demonstrations to raise awareness about the situation in Myanmar. The Rockford area Burmese community held a meeting after the Mass to determine where and when they would peacefully demonstrate to raise awareness on behalf of their homeland. Earlier they contacted the Rockford Diocese for information on how to properly organize such a gathering.
“They don’t have the experience, so they called the diocese,” St. James parishioner Henry Tangbau says. “The situation in Myanmar is very dark (and they want) to show support for Myanmar people.”
Tangbau says that when he heard from Biljeskovic that Bishop Malloy offered to celebrate a special Mass for them, “I have no words. I am very grateful that I’m so blessed in Rockford.
“I was so excited and thankful that the bishop is very understanding. I saw (his statement) on the news ... he (stands with) the Myanmar people.”
Of the around 800 Myanmar people in the area, only about 70 were able to participate because of pandemic restrictions. They “would all want to come” if COVID-19 and its restrictions were not an issue, Tangbau says.
Area Burmese speak about five different dialogues, and “In Burma there are many different languages,” he says. All of the groups participated in the prayers of the faithful at the Mass.
The first and second readings were proclaimed in Burmese and some of the songs were as well, including the ending songs sung by a choir of young people. 
Bishop Malloy covered several aspects in his homily. He emphasized the spiritual importance of the gathering, outlined the current conflict in Myanmar and listed six specific points for prayer being promoted by the bishops of Myanmar.
“We are gathered together this evening for a task and a cause that is greater than ourselves,” Bishop Malloy said. “This celebration of the Mass ... gives us an opportunity to place before Our Lord the concerns, the worries and the sorrows of our hearts.”
The bishop spoke of the anguish he knew they experienced over the recent events impacting friends and relatives still in their homeland, and said, “We are so glad that you are here, with us, among us. 
 You are a witness and a reminder to us about the events and the needs in the wider world.
And as hard as it can be, we must seek pardon and offer forgiveness to all, even in such painful moments. Because forgiveness is the only way to break the cycle of hatred and pain.”
“Above all, even at this distance we are not helpless,” Bishop Malloy concluded. “We are not impotent before the power of this world, and the power of evil.  We join to Christ on the cross.  He knows of our sorrows and our difficulties ...  
“But above all we pray for peace, lasting peace based on respect and forgiveness.  That is what Christ asks of us, especially in this troubled time.”
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