Christian Charity in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and United States

Pope Francis is making apostolic visits to Myanmar and Bangladesh November 27 through December 2. You will immediately note that these countries do not have large Catholic populations. In fact, Catholics are 1.24% (659,000) of the population in Myanmar and 0.24% (375,000) in Bangladesh

I decided to gauge the charitable activities, open to all people, undertaken by this small Catholic Church in the two countries, supported by Catholics outside the two countries. Here is a “charity-at-a-glance” dashboard:

Myanmar Bangladesh
Hospitals   6  10
Medical clinics  65  74
Leper asylums   3    9
Homes for elderly or persons with disabilities  13  14
Orphanages and nurseries 390  89
Family consultation centers   2  25
Special centers of social education or rehabilitation  70   8
Other  19 124

Source: Zenit.org

Myanmar has 369 Catholic pre-school and primary schools with 13,300 Catholic and non-Catholic students. Bangladesh has 647 Catholic pre-school and primary schools serving 74,000 students, 84 middle schools and high schools with 50,000 students, and 14 colleges with 12,000 students.

I remember being impressed by a report made in 2006 by Cardinal Ivan Dias, at that time the former archbishop of Mumbai about Christian charity, not confined to Catholics, in India: Although Christians represented only 2.3% of the Indian population, “they attend to 20% of the whole of primary education in the country, 10% of health and literacy community programs, 25% of care for orphans and widows, and 30% of care for the disabled, lepers and AIDS sufferers.”

Italian-born Mother (now St.) Frances Cabrini, naturalized in 1909, founded 67 institutions between her emigration here in 1889 and her death in my hometown of Chicago in 1917. That’s an average of more than two per year for 29 years! Cabrini was no Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller. It was not her money that founded these institutions, but she knew how to appeal to the local populations in various cities across the country — both for money and to “recruit” women for her religious Order. Her 67 institutions were located in New York, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, Denver, Golden, Colorado, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and in South America, and Europe.

Government must not be allowed to monopolize service. Christian charity cannot exist, and certainly cannot bloom, without toleration by the government — toleration of construction, toleration of financing, toleration of staffing, toleration of operations, toleration of policies, toleration of support from outside the country. That’s how it happened in the 4th century A.D. with the Edict of Milan and that’s how it’s happening, to a very limited degree, in current China. Catholic Father John Baptist Zhang reported, on a visit to Chicago in October 2015, that he had started Jinde Charities in 1997, inspired by Mother Teresa of Calcutta (now Kolkata) who died that year. It first got involved with disaster relief. He added, “[O]ur Jinde Home for the Aged has taken in more than 60 homeless elderly and cared for more than 500 seniors, which gained the open recognition of both the provincial and city governments. A new home for the elderly presently is being designed and prepared for construction.”

As a people, as a Nation, we have an interest in the survival and success of our charitable institutions, including those established by people of faith. Isn’t this what the case brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, in connection with the “contraception mandate” of Obamacare, about? See the three-page, double-spaced September 2015 opinion by now Justice Gorsuch and four other members of the Tenth Circuit.

Sign Up to receive Our Latest Updates! Register