In Myanmar, grief and shock after army attacks a Catholic church

IN AN “EARNEST APPEAL” addressed to the wider world, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, has spoken out following the May 24 attack on the Catholic Sacred Heart Church in the city of Kayanthayar. Four people were killed in the attack and eight others were wounded, according to the cardinal‘s statement, which was made available to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The cardinal condemned the attack as a “humanitarian tragedy.” Apparently, people had sought refuge inside the church to shelter themselves and their families. “The midnight attack made the hapless people flee to the jungle,” the cardinal told ACN. “Their fate is still not known and they are without any medical aid.” 

 The church was also badly damaged in the shooting, Cardinal Bo reported, adding that the recent developments in the country had filled him with “sorrow and pain.”

Speaking on behalf of the bishops’ conference of Myanmar, the cardinal pointed out that churches, hospitals and schools “are protected during conflict through the The Hague conventions”—making it clear that this action constitutes a human rights abuse, targeting their own people, by the military, who seized power again in a coup at the beginning of February this year. “Apart from all protocols, let us remember the blood that is spilled is not some enemy’s blood”, he recalled. “Those who died and those who were wounded are citizens of this country.” 

Cardinal Bo
Cardinal Bo

Already, according to the cardinal, more than 20,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the course of the fighting in the city of Loikaw, the capital city of Kayah State, close to the Thai border coronavirus pandemic, he said, adding, “COVID-19 has robbed them of their livelihood, starvation stalks millions, the threat of another round of COVID-19 is real.”  In such a situation, the armed conflict was nothing more than “a cruel anomaly,” he concluded.

According to international media reports, some 300 people had gathered in the church, seeking refuge from the fighting between the military and the “People’s Defense Force” (PDF), a resistance movement established among the Karen people. Roughly half the population of Kayah State are Christians.

Similar things have happened in neighboring Shan State, it appears, as media reports indicate that there was shooting by the army at the Catholic cathedral in Pekhon May 23.

“The recent escalation in violence, which did not even stop short of attacking places of worship and defenseless people, has shaken us profoundly,” said Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN. “For months now, the people of Myanmar have been going through a time of profound darkness,” he added. “The Church is emphasizing, both by her appeals and still more by her work, that as a small minority in the country she will do everything possible to promote peace and the development of the nation, as well as supporting people in their misery, which has been made still worse by the pandemic.”

This is why ACN has been giving extra support, above all during the coronavirus pandemic, to support priests, catechists and women religious in their work, and to help the most vulnerable families in the country.

“What Christians in Myanmar need, in addition to our practical help, is prayer. This was something Cardinal Bo also emphasized in his appeal,” Dr. Heine-Geldern insisted. “Let us pray to the Lord that the political and military decision-makers in Myanmar will come to see reason and good sense and that peace may soon prevail again in the country,” he concluded.

—Tobias Lehner