By Robin Gomes
A Myanmar Catholic bishop has expressed the gratitude of the people of his country for Pope Francis for his closeness and support to them since the February 1 military coup. . “When the Pontiff speaks, the people of Myanmar feel very encouraged and moved. Not only Catholics but also people of other religions. It is a very important support for all of us, in this tragedy", said Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay.
Since the February 1 military coup that ousted Myanmar’s elected government and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country has been in turmoil with nationwide protests and strikes demanding the restoration of democracy. Besides the ongoing protests, the coup has also revived some of the country’s old conflicts between the military and some of the ethnic rebel militia groups in states where there are large numbers of Christians.
In an interview to the Vatican’s Fides news agency, Archbishop Win commented on the Pope’s appeal at the end of his midday ‘Angelus’ prayer on Sunday, June 20. The Pope said he was adding his voice to the appeal of the Bishops of Myanmar to provide humanitarian corridors for innocent civilians caught up in the ethnic conflicts.
The Holy Father said the bishops were drawing attention to the "heart-rending experience” of thousands of displaced people trapped in conflict zones who are starving. Myanmar’s bishops urged for humanitarian corridors for these people saying “they have the basic right to food and safety”. They also demanded that “churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples, as well as schools and hospitals” where thousands have sought refuge be respected as neutral places and not be targeted.
Several churches and other places of worship have been raided and shelled by the military, especially in Chin and Kayah states. The Pope urged that “the Heart of Christ touch the hearts of everyone, bringing peace to Myanmar!”
Since the coup, Pope Francis, who visited the impoverished south-east Asian nation in November 2015, has repeatedly expressed his solidarity with the people and urged the military leaders to turn to dialogue and pursue peace. On May 16, he celebrated a Mass for Myanmar together with the country's Catholics living in Rome.
Displacement, suffering, hunger
Archbishop Win urged all parties to the conflicts to “listen to the voice of the Pope and put an end to all violence." He also spoke about the suffering of the people in his archdiocese and other territories, where displaced women, children, the sick and the elderly are exhausted by violence and suffering. He said, “the army has also burned humanitarian aid and this is a great cruelty to innocent people".
In a homily on Sunday, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon pointed out that more than 120,000 people have been displaced in the conflict zones of Mindat, in Chin state, and Loikaw in Kayah state. They are without food and medicine, cold and soaking in the monsoon rain in the jungles where they have sought refuge.
The United Nations passed a resolution on June 18 calling for an end to arms sales to Myanmar and demanded the release of political detainees and an end to violence against peaceful protesters. Archbishop Win expressed satisfaction over the move saying people hope “it will be a first step to stop the violence and resume a path of peace".
However, the resolution, which is legally not binding, has no teeth. Hence, Myanmar coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday flew to Russia, one of his main supporters and arms suppliers, to strengthen military ties between the two countries. Rights activists and groups have accused Russia for legitimizing Myanmar's junta. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Myanmar’s coup leader on Tuesday that Moscow is committed to strengthening military ties with Myanmar, Russia's RIA news agency reported. Military ties between the two countries have grown in recent years with Moscow providing army training and university scholarships to thousands of soldiers, as well as selling arms to a military blacklisted by several Western countries.
Archbishop Win of Mandalay lamented that security forces have been brutally cracking down on protesters. He said young people are left with no option except to defend the people with arms. As a result, violence and clashes have increased.
Archbishop Win said the Catholic Church of Myanmar has been always preaching and seeking peace amid the tragedy of the blood of the people. He said that at the moment, there is no way out because dialogue is at a standstill and is rejected by both sides. Hence, they can only pray that God moves the hearts of the junta. (Source: FIDES)