The Anglican Family Gathering in Yangon, Myanmar, included a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. • Anglican Taonga photo
Adapted from Anglican Communion News Service
Archbishop Richardson is one of three primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, with responsibility for seven Tikanga Pakeha dioceses.
Myanmar, the poorest country in Southeast Asia, is only now emerging from 64 years of military dictatorship. Several thousand Anglicans from across Myanmar attended the gathering, which meets every five years.
Richardson said November’s landslide victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has left people cautiously optimistic.
The military is still powerful and omnipresent in Myanmar, “but there’s real hope among the people that they’ve gone so far down the road to democracy that those gains won’t be turned back,” he said. “There is also tremendous pride in what Aung San Suu Kyi has achieved, and a conviction that her leadership will finally bring equitable development.”
There are serious impediments to development, including land confiscations, and social upheavals caused by the regime driving people from their traditional lands. Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, and during the years of dictatorship the country was embroiled in a civil war.
In a country of 51 million where Buddhism is the state religion, the military junta forced foreign missionaries to leave, and questions about religious freedom still remain, the Anglican church is small, stable, ethnically diverse, and welcoming.
“You get the sense of a community that is in very good heart,” Richardson said. “There are significant numbers of vocations, a noticeable group of young leaders, and a growing number of women asking about the role of women in leadership in the church.”
Women in Myanmar have been encouraged by Aung San Suu Kyi’s steadfastness and electoral victory, he said; they were interested in the ordination of women and the way different ethnic groups relate to each other in New Zealand.
The archbishop said he was impressed by the “grace, kindness, and humor of the people,” and their keenness to end their isolation.
“Building these relationships is no short-term endeavor,” he said. “But there is a real openness to the potential for relationships of mutual respect and interdependence.”
Early in the morning after the gathering ended, the Rev. Saw John Wilme drove Richardson five hours northeast to his Diocese of Toungoo.
Along the way they visited a small community of Karen refugees, who were driven from their land by civil war.
This community has just finished building a church, he said, which “represents a challenge to the forces that oppress, a refusal to be overcome, a determination that it will be better for their children.”