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Military torch church and convent in Myanmar, forcing thousands to flee

03 February 2023

Myanmar has descended into violence after the 2021 military coup

Alamy

A market in Yangon is seen deserted on Tuesday — the second anniversary of the military coup that ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government

A market in Yangon is seen deserted on Tuesday — the second anniversary of the military coup that ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected...

A CHURCH and convent have been burned to the ground by the military in Myanmar. Thousands of people, including the Sisters, have been forced to flee.

Nearby homes were also destroyed, and the surrounding village left in rubble, the Vatican news agency Fides reported.

The RC Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, in Chan Thar, is one of the oldest and most important places of worship in the country, the Vatican said. The church was consecrated on 18 February 1894. The attack was the fourth on the village, which is a Christian community.

Myanmar has descended into violence after the 2021 military coup which overthrew Aung Sang Su Kyi (Comment, 21 January 2022). About eight per cent of the population — 4.4 million — are believed to be Christian, but Christians have increasingly been targeted in violent attacks. Open Doors, the charity which monitors persecution of Christians, ranks Myanmar as the 14th worst country in the world to be a Christian, in its 2023 report.

Pope Francis expressed his sorrow at the attack in an address in St Peter’s Square on 22 January, saying that he was close to the civilian population suffering around the country. He invited everyone present to join him in saying a Hail Mary for Myanmar.

Sister Rita, one of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary forced to flee, told Fides that she and the other Sisters asked inhabitants of the village to leave their homes, and “not to oppose the soldiers, and not to resist, to avoid massacres and brutality”.

She continued: “The soldiers want to crush any resistance from the civilians. They enter the villages, occupy buildings like schools and churches, and camp there. From there, they carry out raids from house to house to flush out the rebels. They stayed in our church for three days and when they left they set fire to the church and our convent.

“By a miracle, the chapel of adoration of the church was not affected by the flames. We see there a sign from the Most High: even in this brutal and senseless violence, the Lord is always with us. Our region was known to be one of the most peaceful and harmonious in the country. Now it’s a place of devastation and rubble.”

The three Archbishops of Myanmar — Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, of Yangon; Archbishop Marco Tin Wan, of Mandalay; and Archbishop Basilio Athai, of Taunggyi — have urged the country to start on a “new pilgrimage of peace”.

“Increasingly the places of worship and monasteries, where communities sought peace and reconciliation, are themselves under attack and carnage. International instruments like the Hague Convention call for the protection of places of worship, places of learning, and places of healing,” the Archbishops said. They asked, “with pain and anguish . . . why these sacred places are attacked and destroyed?”

Places of worship promoted the interdependence and sense of interrelatedness that are necessary for the nation to heal, they said. “When they are mercilessly burnt, returning to normalcy becomes a great challenge.”

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