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Myanmar monk calls for freedom at interreligious meeting

CNA, Oct 23, 2007

Naples, Italy -- A Buddhist monk denounced the Myanmar military junta's violent suppression of protesters and called for prayers for freedom and peace at an interreligious gathering in Naples this past weekend.

Venerable Uttara became a monk twenty years ago in Myanmar but fled to Britain in 1992. He said he did this to avoid capture by the military, since they were searching for him for his role in the 1988 protests also led by monks. He is now head of a Buddhist temple in London.

UCA News reported that Venerable Uttara spoke at the “Religions and Men” meeting organized by the Catholic lay community of Saint Egidio in Naples. "I am here to pray with all of you for the freedom and peace of the whole world." He spoke with care for his fellow Myanmar monks, many of whom have been detained after massive peaceful protests against the ruling military dictatorship

"Many are dead; many were seriously injured; many live in hiding and in terror; and I want to pray for their salvation and so that they can return to a normal life as soon as possible in the near future," he said.

The monk described the protests as a reaction against "extreme poverty, brutal repression, and ignoble corruption." He said the monks spread "love and gentleness" in the hopes of victory against the regime.

Venerable Uttara expressed fear for the victims of the military junta's retaliation: "We have seen many thousands of monks during the demonstrations, but we are now very sad because we do not know where they are now. We have heard that the military tortured those peaceful monks during the curfew at night, and the number of victims have risen to the order of thousands," he said. The government admits to 3,000 detentions, and there are diplomatic reports of nighttime cremations.

The monk noted that Buddhism would not be the only religion oppressed by the Myanmar regime. "If they can destroy the most powerful religion in the country in a few days, then we fear that whatever religion will not have an opportunity to survive under this regime in Burma," he said.

Praying for an end to repression, the release of the protesters, the end of poverty, illegal arrests and torture, the Venerable Uttara thanked the gathering for its invitation to speak.

His ecumenical audience included Vatican officials, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, and the second-highest official in the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Petrograd. Government representatives present included the Italian Prime Minister, members of the Holy See's diplomatic corps, and the presidents of Ecuador and Tanzania.

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