YANGON — Myanmar’s first cardinal said Tuesday he would push for an end to sectarian violence in his country, two days after he was elevated to the heights of the Roman Catholic Church. Charles Maung Bo, 66, was promoted to cardinal on Sunday by Pope Francis alongside 19 others. Many hail from the developing world as the Vatican’s support shifts from its traditional European stronghold. Overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar has seen a spate of communal unrest in recent years, particularly in the states of Rakhine and Kachin. Bo called on religious leaders of all faiths to help ease tensions. ��If religious leaders show unity, their followers will gradually gain greater understanding and I think the violence will then lessen,�� he told AFP from his office in St. Mary’s Church in Yangon. ��I will make a strong effort to achieve stability in Rakhine and Kachin states where there has been unrest among different ethnic groups,�� he added. The western state of Rakhine has seen a spate of religiously inspired violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya �X described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities �X as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship. Thousands of Rohingya have fled deadly communal unrest since 2012. Kachin in the north, a majority Christian state, has long been racked by a civil war between troops and ethnic Kachin rebels. Around 100,000 people have fled their homes since a 17-year cease-fire ended in 2011. Myanmar’s minority religions have looked on with alarm at growing instances of intolerance from a small but increasingly vocal core of Buddhist nationalists.
Overall, Christians are thought to make up about four percent of Myanmar’s 51 million population �X around 500,000 of them Catholics. Muslims make up another four percent and Buddhists around 90 percent, with other religions including Hinduism and animism.