A Meeting of East and West: Philosophy and Religion. International Conference in Bangkok, organized by the Institute Pope Benedict XVI. in Regensburg, the Diocese of Regensburg and KAAD
At the end of November 2017, Pope Francis traveled to Myanmar, a country with which KAAD has maintained close relations since 1993. The international conference “A Meeting of East and West: Philosophy and Religion”, taking place from December 5th to 8th 2017, offered KAAD scholarship holders from Myanmar the opportunity to reflect on their role as Christians in a region that is characterized by a diversity of cultures, religions and beliefs. The program addressed the cultural and religious diversity of Southeast Asia in a variety of ways. Fr. Charles Julius Borges spoke about “India’s Unique Spiritual and Social Offerings to the World, Then and Now” and Ass. Prof. Dr. Warayuth Sriwarakuel on “Philosophy and Theology in Thailand”. The lecture by Fr. Werasak Yongsripanithan “Some Ideas for Philosophy and Theology and My Observation in Thailand (Hill-Tribe Group)”, which discussed the special situation of Christians in the border area between Thailand and Myanmar, gave particularly revealing insights. The lecture by Prof. Dr. med. Saw Hlaing Bwas “Doing a Dialogical Theology in the Buddhist Philosophical Context of Myanmar” focused on the interreligious dialogue between Buddhists and Christians in Myanmar.
Four representatives of the Diocese of Regensburg participated in the international conference. Thanks to the Diocese’s financial commitment, KAAD has been able to expand its program in Myanmar since 2001 and to support students with a good academic and ecclesial background to study at the Assumption University of Thailand (ABAC). Upon their return, the scholarship holders worked in church-run institutions or administration, at Caritas or in development projects of non-governmental organizations. Increasingly, after two years of studying, the graduates are working as “volunteers” in ecclesial contexts, in international companies and aid organizations. The Diocese of Regensburg was represented by the former as well as the current head of the Office for International Church Affairs, as well as by the Commissioner for Myanmar. The conference was opened by the Director of the Benedict XVI. Study Center, Dr. med. Christian Schaller, with the lecture “Earth, man, God: Reflecting with Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI on the Dimension of Culture”. A total of 61 people attended the conference, of which 20 people came from Myanmar.
Myanmar has opened up and is in a major economic and social transition. Even disappointment about too slow change is spreading. These upheavals present a great challenge to pastoral care and the work of the Church. Previously acting in a very confined space, the church now has leeway to help shaping a humane and peaceful society. Cardinal Charles Bo and the Myanmar Catholic Church have consistently affirmed that also as a minority they want to actively contribute to Myanmar’s democratic, peaceful and just “nation building”. Not least thanks to the qualified active support of the scholarship holders of KAAD and Diocese of Regensburg, the church in Myanmar has been able to provide education, disaster relief, refugee care and development projects in rural areas, where the government was barely active. To help all residents of Myanmar without regard to religion is still an essential part of today’s work of the church, particularly in the context of the emerging conflicts between nationalist Buddhists and Muslim minorities. Besides, new opportunities beyond the immediate work of the church are arising. Well-trained Catholic Christians, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, are now able to play a decisive role in business, in international relief organizations and in various social fields to help building a new state. However, Myanmar will need many more well-educated and, above all, ethically responsible citizens. The scholarship holders of KAAD and Diocese of Regensburg are certainly among them.