ASIA: Filipino priest shaves head in solidarity with Burma monks; protests continue across region

(Hong Kong, October 4, 2007) A Filipino priest in Hong Kong found a new way to observe a Catholic holy day on Thursday by having his head shaved to show solidarity with Burma’s Buddhist monks.

Fr. Robert Reyes had his head shaved outside the legislative assembly in the city centre to mark the feast for St. Francis of Assisi and commune with Buddhist monks suffering from the continuing violent crackdown by the military junta in Burma after they led protests against it in September.

“Today, I will have my head shaved for the first time… It is such a small price to pay to express what is deepest in my heart and the heart of all peace and justice loving persons,” Fr. Reyes said in a statement that he read out beforehand.

“I let go of my hair and ask the rest of the world to let go of their indifference as well. Hair represents both attachment and defilement. The Burmese Generals led by General Than Shwe are madly attached to power which has not only defiled them but is now leading them to murder those who stand for what they are not… the Buddhists monks,” he said in the statement.

He likened the monks’ actions of going out to the streets to demonstrate to how St. Francis of Assisi had also lived his life, through non-violence and love.

Like the monks, St. Francis too had lived a simple life deprived of wealth and privileges, he noted.

Reyes also likened the shaving of his head to St. Francis’ stripping his clothes to express anger.

“For these monks to lead the protests was a form of self sacrifice. They have risked their own lives and chosen to break their silence for the welfare of their people,” Reyes observed.

“But even these peaceful actions were too much for the regime to tolerate,” he added.

Reyes stressed that Catholics around the world must pay constant attention to the continuing violent crackdown by Burma’s regime and do whatever possible through their communities to end the suffering there.

The full text of his statement follows.

Photographs of his solo protest can be viewed online at:

He was joined by onlookers from local human rights groups and members of the public as well as a number of journalists.

Further rallies continued outside Burma’s embassies in Manila, Seoul and Colombo, among other cities, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A global day of action for Burma is being planned for this Saturday, October 6.

In Hong Kong, an interfaith prayer gathering will be held at 7:30pm at the public area fronting the City Hall, Central. Details follow.

Persons interested to know more about actions in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia to support the struggle in Burma can contact Wong Kai Shing or Bruce Van Voorhis at the Asian Human Rights Commission, on (+852) 2698 6339.


I will lose my hair only for a few days. Our Buddhist brothers and sisters have lost their lives. They are not coming back.

Sometime in 1980, I visited the Trappist monastery in Guimaras, Iloilo. I was going to spend the day to reflect and pray. As I sat in various corners of the monastery, I noticed the quiet and contemplative movement of the monks. Just looking at them walking, working in contemplative silence was prayer itself. I notice something else. They were all bald. Every single monk wore gray, their bald heads glistening in the sun. I had shoulder length hair at that time. A thought began gently brushing against my consciousness. What if I also gave up my hair? I continued praying. The monks continued walking, working in contemplative silence around me. Towards mid afternoon, I left the monastery and went straight to a barber shop. I asked the barber to cut my hair. He began trimming it. I clarified, “Please cut it short.” He continued trimming. Then I just had to say, “Halos kalbo po…” Cut my hair to the root, almost bald. The barber protested, “You will look funny and ugly.” I insisted, “Please cut it very short.” From then until now, I have not grown my hair long. But I have never had my head shaved.

Today I will have my head shaved for the first time. I know it will cause me some embarrassment. I will endure it. It is such a small price to pay to express what is deepest in my heart and the heart of all peace and justice loving persons. I let go of my hair and ask the rest of the world to let go of their indifference as well. Hair represents both attachment and defilement. The Burmese Generals led by General Than Shwe are madly attached to power which has not only defiled them but is now leading them to murder those who stand for what they are not and should not do, the Buddhists monks.
The power worshipped by Than Shwe and his men have made them cold and indifferent to the suffering of the Burmese. It can only be this cold, deadly indifference that motivated Than Shwe to suck the country’s coffers dry to build “Naypyitaw”, the so-called Royal City where he and his family rules Burma with shameless royal pretensions.

In a way, Gen. Than Shwe had to build this palace away from the suffering masses. Here he can pretend to be indifferent when in fact he is afraid. Living in royal splendor does make him forget the poor and dying Burmese. But aside from this, he also maintains an army of 400,000 soldiers.

The Buddhist monks are the exact opposite of Gen. Than Shwe’s world. The Burmese Buddhist world is a world of gentleness, simplicity, mindfulness and loving kindness. Than Shwe’s world is a world of murderous violence, opulence, endless scheming, conspiracy and greed.

Many parts of the world aspire for the same shallow and destructive values of Than Shwe’s world. Indifference and fear are bred in and by such a world. The mad and desperate worship and clinging to power in Burma can be seen in many parallel and similar ways throughout the world. Ironically, Than Shwe intends to push his people into the depths of the same indifference and fear by using his only available instrument, force, military force.

Today, we cannot stand quiet as though hostage to indifference and fear. I invite you, as I let go of my hair, to let go of whatever makes you feel separate, different from the Burmese people. The Burmese may have their own religion, history, and problems but they are humans, no less or more human than we are. We share a common humanity. Their dreams, hopes, feelings, pains, struggles and victories are not only like ours but are truly ours as well. The Burmese are hungry, dying, and many languishing in jail. We need to feel with and for them. Most importantly now, we need to speak with and for them.

Not too many years ago, Hitler also tried to instill indifference and fear through the holocaust. Against the indifference and fear spawned by Hitler’s holocaust, Hannah Arendt writes:

“For the idea of humanity, when purged of all sentimentality, has the very serious consequence that in one form or another men must assume responsibility for all crimes committed by men and that all nations share the onus of evil committed by all others. Shame at being a human being is the purely individual and still non-political expression of this insight.” (Cf. Hannah Arendt, “Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954”, New York: Schocken Books, 1994)

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 4, 2007
Feast of St. Francis of Assisi


6 October 2007, 7:30PM, near City Hall (Central)

People in Burma have been stricken with poverty and hardship, bus fare increased five-fold as the military government raised fuel price substantially. Out of sympathy and compassion, Buddhist monks in Burma refused the alms from the government officials and expressed their solidarity with the people in peaceful marches. But their non-violence was replied with brutal crackdown by the military.

As witness of the situation in Burma, an interfaith prayer gathering Pray for Peace in Burma is organized as an expression of concern and blessing for the well being of the people there. The details are as follow:

Date: 6 October 2007 (Sat)
Time: 7:30PM
Venue: Public area in front of City Hall, Central (opposite to the Queen’s Pier)
Activities: Singing and chanting, praying and sharing

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PL-043-2007
Countries : Asia, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand,
Campaigns : Burma Peoples Protests