By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have expressed their solidarity with the people of Myanmar in their protests “calling for a return to democracy”.
The chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) conveyed the sentiments of the US Bishops in a message sent to the Bishops of Myanmar.
“On February 1, the military in Myanmar took control of the country, arresting many democratic political leaders and activists, including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. Since the coup, protesters have gathered peacefully around the country, calling for a return to democracy,” recalled Committee chairman, Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, in a brief message to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) on Tuesday.
He recalled that Pope Francis has “condemned the coup and expressed his solidarity" with the people and called on the nation's leaders to work for the common good”. “I echo the call by the Holy Father and the Bishops of Myanmar on the need for dialogue as a way forward toward peace and reconciliation,” Bishop Malloy said.
He said he has “asked U.S. government officials to carefully consider the insights the local Church can offer towards achieving a just resolution to the current crisis”. In this regard, all Catholics and people of goodwill have been urged to pray for the people and leaders of Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the protests are continuing in Myanmar despite security forces ramping up their crackdown against the opponents of the coup. Demonstrators returned to the streets Thursday, undaunted by the killing of at least 38 people the previous day by security forces.
“Today it was the bloodiest day since the coup happened on Feb. 1,” the United Nations special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said on Wednesday. “We have today — only today — 38 people who died,” she told reporters by video link from Bern, Switzerland. “We have now more than over 50 people dead since the coup started" and more have been wounded.
Demonstrators have flooded the streets of towns and cities across Myanmar, despite the ban on gatherings of five or more people. Witnesses say security forces have been repeatedly firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds and arresting the protesters.
On Thursday, Myanmar security forces were seen firing slingshots at protesters, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew in video.
Myanmar’s military legacy
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has suffered long under the rule of the oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011. During the nearly 5 decades, almost all dissent was suppressed with gross human rights abuse, which drew international condemnation and sanctions. A gradual liberalization began in 2010, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government led by Suu Kyi the following year.
Myanmar’s latest crisis, triggered by the 1 Feb coup, erupted following days after mounting tension between the elected civilian government and Myanmar's powerful military, which claimed that the nation’s November general election, won overwhelmingly by the NLD, was fraudulent.
A nun with extraordinary courage
Catholics, including nuns, priests and the clergy have been taking part in the protests, supporting calls for restoring the elected government. Standing tall amongst them, was a 45-year-old nun who dared to confront the security forces on the street.
As Myanmar security forces were cracking down on street protests on 28 Feb. in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state, Sister Ann Rosa Nu Tawng of St. Francis Xavier congregation was determined to stand between battle lineup.
Undeterred by fear, she approached the security personnel who were in full riot gear ready for action. She knelt down on the ground, pleading with them to spare the unarmed civilians who were protesting peacefully. They told her to leave immediately, warning she was in grave danger, but she stood her ground. “Just shoot me if you want to. The protesters have no weapons and they are just showing their desire peacefully,” Sister Nu Tawng challenged the security men.
The images of Sister Nu Tawng’s courageous intervention were shared on social media and even people from outside Myanmar including journalists, rights groups and former UN rights envoy Yanghee Lee lauded her courage. Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon also posted her images on Twitter.
Later, speaking about her 28 Feb. faceoff, she admitted it was a dangerous situation but said she was ready to die. “I have prepared myself that I will give my life for the Church, for the people and for the nation,” she said. “I’m a Catholic nun but I’m also a citizen of Myanmar, so I have the same feeling as the people of Myanmar,” she said. “I am always thinking about how I can give a hand to the people of Myanmar.”
She narrated that dozens of protesters had hid in the Church-run clinic where she worked, as security personnel beat, chased and arrested them. “When I saw that scenario, I felt it’s like a battle zone,” she said. She was also hit in the leg and chest but only suffered minor injuries.
Call for justice and democracy
Sister Nu Tawng was among the many nuns who stood before the clinic and showed solidarity with the protesters by holding placards that read "Justice and democracy will prevail" as anti-coup protesters marched on the streets.
She stressed that people from all walks of life, religions and ethnicities need to walk hand in hand to reach the goal of democracy. “I believe we will reach our goal through perseverance despite the journey being tough and facing more bloodshed,” she said.