By Robin Gomes
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Myanmar on Monday in one of the largest demonstrations yet against the country's military coup three weeks ago. People are demanding an end to military rule and want the nation’s elected leader San Suu Kyi released, along with senior members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Protesters gathered in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, despite the ruling junta’s threat to use lethal force against people who join a general strike against the military's 1 Feb. coup. Police dispersed crowds in the capital, Naypyitaw, and a water cannon truck was seen to move into position.
Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops of Myanmar have appealed to the military urging restraint on the streets and to return to dialogue to resolve the crisis. In a statement on Sunday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) decried the violence in the streets saying ‘the sad and shocking recent events have brought huge sorrow to our nation.” The appeal signed by CBCM president Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, executive secretary Auxiliary Bishop John Saw Yaw Han of Yangon and 17 other bishops from across the country, came as the funeral of the first casualty in the protests, a 20-year-old woman, was held in Naypyitaw on Sunday after she was shot in the head on Feb. 9.
Myanmar soaked in fraternal blood
“The heart-rending scenes of youth dying in the streets wound the conscience of a nation,” the bishops lamented. said. “Let not its sacred ground be soaked in fraternal blood. The sadness of parents burying their children has to stop. Mothers’ tears are never a blessing to any nation,” the bishops warned.
They noted that just a month ago, the nation was dreaming of enhanced peace and democracy. “Despite the onslaught of the global pandemic,” they noted, “the nation held an election.” “The world admires our capacity for managing our differences.” However, “Today, the world weeps with us, shattered by the fragmentation of this nation once again,” the bishops deplored, saying the country’s young people deserve a better deal.
“Healing needs to start with the release of detained leaders,” the Church leaders stressed, calling on all to return to dialogue and invest their energy in reconciliation.
Cardinal Bo’s Lenten appeal
Cardinal Bo has also called on his faithful of his archdiocese to pray and fast for reconciliation as the nation is locked in hopelessness and despair through the coup. “This is a time for prayer. This is a time for fasting. This is a time for conversion for all of us in this country,” he said in a homily on the first Sunday of Lent.
“Let the dove of peace return to our nation,” he prayed. “Let this nation rise up to be a new Myanmar of peace and prosperity to all. Let the rainbow of peace and reconciliation rise again.” In his homily, the outspoken cardinal, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, warned against abuse of power, money, arrogance and oppression. “The mightiest powers will fall and their graves may become history,” he said.
Catholics continue protests
Myanmar has seen daily protests from urban cities to remote areas including in Christian strongholds where ethnic groups have shown their support for pro-democracy rallies. Catholic men and women religious, priests, seminarians and laypeople have taken to the streets to pray for peace as pro-democracy protests intensified in Myanmar three weeks after the 1 Feb. coup.
On Sunday, some 1,000 Catholics, mostly young people, marched on the streets of Yangon. The previous day, several hundred recited prayers and the rosary on the streets in Mandalay. Last week, nuns, priests and laypeople also took to the streets in Kayah state, a Catholic stronghold in northeastern Myanmar, to pray for peace. Christians from other denominations also joined Catholics on the streets in several cities in Kachin and Chin states.
Nuns have provided food and drinks to protesters in Yangon while some have organized prayer meetings in their convents. On Friday, dozens of Catholic youths held a demonstration in front of the US embassy in Yangon while thousands of anti-coup protests gathered in front of the embassies of China, Japan and Singapore.
On Saturday, two people including a teenager were killed and more than 20 injured in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, during a violent crackdown by security forces on protesters. The latest bloody crackdown has sparked strong condemnation from the United Nations, the US, Britain and the European Union.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged Myanmar's military to halt repression immediately, release hundreds detained and respect human rights and the will of the people expressed in the elections.