Myanmar: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is universally celebrated on December 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on September 8. It is one of the most important Marian feasts celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church celebrated worldwide. Many Christian communities around the world annually observe the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and this day is a holy day of obligation in which many Christians, particularly of the Catholic faith, attend special church services for the occasion. The feast focuses on the concept that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin. Many churches, hold special services to commemorate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In Yangon, Myanmar – formerly known as Burma – the annual feast of St. Mary’s Cathedral is celebrated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which falls on 8th December.
St. Mary’s Cathedral in Yangon, Myanmar – which is dedicated to Mother Mary – celebrated its annual church feast in Myanmar along with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and silver jubilee of Cardinal Charles Bo as Bishop. It was a triple celebration for the Catholics in Yangon as they celebrated the feast, which was preceded by a 9 day novena from 29th November to 7th December, with a procession of Mother Mary’s statue around the cathedral on each day of the novena with lit candles in the hands of devotees.
Youth of the parish, the Society of St. Vincent Paul, the Legion of Mary, the Women’s Association, the Choir group, the Lectors group, the Tamil Catholics of Yangon, the Parish Pastoral Council, the Catholics from the northern Kachin province of Myanmar and others from nearby parishes carried the statue and led the procession every day with the recitation of the Rosary.
Hundreds of Catholics had gathered for the novena prayers, sermon, benediction and procession. Non-Catholics from Yangon also took part in the novena prayers and devotions leading to the feast. There was a special prayer of 1000 beads of Rosary which was something unique.
Many parishioners from the archdiocese attended the 1000 beads of Rosary which was initiated by Fr. Dominic Thet Tin in the year 2003 when he was the associate parish priest of St. Mary’s Cathedral. It is learnt that the church in Myanmar initially started 1000 beads of Rosary on the feast of Rosary on 7th October 2003 which was later continued in St Mary’s Cathedral along with the parish feast and the feast of Immaculate Conception.
1000 envelopes were freely distributed and Catholics as well as non-Catholics who sealed their petitions in these envelopes gathered together on Saturday before the feast, to pray the 1000 beads. At the recitation of each bead, one candle was lit and a Rose was put to make 50 roses in a basket which were then placed at the altar after the completion of one full Rosary. People were seen intercessing for the petitions.
Fr Dominic Thet Tin, the present parish priest of St. Mary’s Cathedral and a staunch devotee of Mother Mary, is of the opinion that Rosary should be recited by every Catholic family but many a times, fellow Catholics do not spend time to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary and honour the lady who played a major role in the plan of salvation of humankind. It is said that Fr Dominic was inspired by the Spirit to start this special prayer to bring all the parishioners and families together to pray the 1000 beads of Rosary for the intentions of the people and for all those who have no one to pray for.
The parishioners, who had been preparing and looking forward to this grand celebration, were extremely happy to be inspired by the events of the 9 days. On the feast day, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, celebrated the Solemn High Mass with Auxillary Bishop Saw Yaw Han and Bishop Peter Caku from Kyaiktiyo diocese along with 60 concelebrants.
The church was tastefully decorated by Rosanna Florals and a strong choir rose to the occasion to make the day’s liturgy more prayerful and exuberant. The Chapel Altar was decorated with golden colour sheets, fresh flowers and the Chapel was shining with the divine brightness of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
Cardinal Bo crowned his homily with the significant role played by Mary, the Mother of God in the plan of salvation in the history of the Church and especially in one’s individual and community life. He said that Mother Mary has always been a constant guide and protector in the struggles of the Church from its inception. He exhorted the congregation to emulate St. Joseph and Our Lady. He also spoke about the Year of Mercy and informed that the Catholic church worldwide is celebrating the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which starts from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and will be a special holy year of remission of sins and universal pardon. He called on Catholics and the Church everywhere to show mercy and compassion, in thought and in deed, and focus on forgiveness, reconciliation and doing good in concrete ways for the needy and those on the margins of society.
Those who took part in the whole celebration were delighted to see the vibrant congregation and the excellent celebration. 70 members from the Kachin community dressed traditionally took a dancing procession which added beauty to this occasion. At the end of the mass, the flag of Immaculate Conception, which was hoisted on the beginning day of the novena, was lowered and brought in a procession accompanied by the Salesians Brass Band.
After the Eucharistic celebrations, Cardinal Bo cut the beautiful cake brought by the parishoners and Chen Wang, a professional Opera singer from England who attended the celebration, enthralled the people gathered with her melodious voice by singing a Marian hymn.
The parish pastoral committee on behalf of the parishioners felicitated the cardinal on his silver jubilee and the Indian community in Myanmar represented by Wilfred Dsouza, Basil Bariyawal, Deepak Kumar Ullal, Gowthaman and Nanda Kumar dressed in the traditional Indian attire honoured Cardinal Bo with a Indian tri-coloured shawl and a special garland made of cardamom and sandalwood from the state of Karnataka in India.
Speaking on the occasion, Cardinal Bo expressed his gratitude for the love and support of the people and thanked them. Parish priest Fr Dominic Thet Tin, on behalf of the parish, thanked all the faithful and well-wishers present. Religious priests and nuns from different dioceses of Myanmar, priests from India, Sri Lanka, other Asian countries and Vatican and many others from different nationalities, guests and relatives of the cardinal were present on the occasion. Glynis Pereira compered the programme.
The cardinal inaugurated the new shrine of Divine Mercy constructed by Thomas, Sabina & family of UPG Myanmar in the Cathedral to mark the Year of Mercy and addressing everyone spoke on the opening of the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome which for the first time has opened since the turn of the century, to mark the official start of a year laden with symbolism for Catholics across the world. He shared the Pope’s message that the Holy Door is a “Door of Mercy, through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope”.
The celebrations concluded with a traditional procession accompanied by the brass band. Parishioners joined the procession, singing and praying along the route, thanking God for the gift of Mother Mary. A festive lunch was served to all gathered.
History of St. Mary’s Cathedral
Yangon cathedral is Myanmar’s main Christian place of worship and one of the most important in all of Asia. Built in the Gothic style, it has undergone major renovation in the past days. Time, the 1930 earthquake, bombs during World War 2 and cyclone Nargis in 2008 have made renovation an imperative. The work that was just completed entailed among things, the replacement of 88 stained glass windows made by Thai artists. Some show the 12 apostles and life of Christ.
It may be recalled that the Catholic Church in Myanmar last year concluded the jubilee year celebrations of 500 years of its presence in the country, soon after which Pope Francis elevated Archbishop Charles Maung Bo as the first Cardinal from Myanmar. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo became a priest 39 years ago and is presently the Archbishop of archdiocese of Yangon and is one of the most outspoken religious leaders in Burma on issues of human rights, religious freedom, democracy, poverty, human trafficking and other injustices.