Archbishop Philip Freier, who led a team to Myanmar in February, is now promoting efforts – incorporating organisations and individuals beyond the diocese - to follow up the two week visit to the country which is only now emerging from 60 years of isolation under a military dictatorship.

In April, he hosted at Bishopscourt a diverse group of 35 people, including several Burmese clergy and other leaders, to discuss priorities in building on the links now established – which has already triggered further networking to plan action.

The group included former ambassador to Burma and China Garry Woodard, the Rev Dr Lindsay Wilson of Ridley College, Father Michael Smith and Associate Professor Marie Joyce of the Australian Catholic University – which has provided online courses for students in the refugee camps - senior lecturer in social work at RMIT University Susan Costello, Naw Tamla Moo and the Rev David Caro - respectively the general secretary and chairman of the Karen Anglican Ministries on the Border - Bishops Philip Huggins and Paul White, architect Peter Slifirski,  board member of Anglican Overseas Aid Yvonne Poon, coordinator of the diocese’s Multicultural Ministry Canon Alan Nichols, and the vicar of Werribee the Revd Ron Peterson.

The two key requests that came from Myanmar’s Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo were for assistance in seizing the opportunities now presented to the church to participate in rebuilding the country, with its many fractured relationships including between ethnic groups, and for help in re-establishing the church’s own infrastructure, its buildings – including churches, schools and hospitals – destroyed or in poor shape, and in a legal limbo as Myanmar struggles back towards a rule of law.

The anticipated return of many thousands of Anglicans from refugee camps across the Thai border, and the loss of two generations of potential leaders as able young Burmese have sought education overseas including in Australia, add to the complex challenges facing the church there.

Archbishop Stephen is seeking help especially, said Archbishop Philip, to establish a non government organisation to take on the church’s emerging liberation and development opportunities, and to chart an appropriate legal structure to enable the church to gain secure possession of its plant and assets, however degraded and dilapidated.

The further networking since the meeting at Bishopscourt has included plans to provide technical help towards the creation of an education policy, and discussion between architect Peter Slifirski and experienced surveyors about assisting practical policies to provide legal certainty for church ownership – and also, potentially, for land being reclaimed by returning refugees.

Rowan Callick is Asia-Pacific Editor for The Australian newspaper, and an examining chaplain in the Diocese of Melbourne.

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