Yet another Catholic church has been shelled by the military in Myanmar. Ironically, the church is dedicated to Mary Queen of Peace in Daw Ngan Kha in Kayah State.
The church was attacked on Sunday, but no casualties or injuries were reported as the parishioners sheltering inside sensed the attack and fled to their relatives or into the jungle. However, the church walls were badly damaged and windows shattered.
The attack appears to be deliberate, since the church compound is fairly large and clearly visible on a busy street. Several nearby houses were also damaged by the shelling. (Read: Myanmar Bishops Condemn Killings of Anti-Coup Protesters)
Third Church Attack
Mary Queen of Peace church is reportedly the third church that has come under military attack in two weeks in Kayah.
Sacred Heart Church in Kayanthayar village was hit by artillery shelling that killed four Catholics and wounded at least eight others on May 23 night. St. Joseph Church in Demoso town, one of the key areas of fighting, was hit by military artillery on May 26 night.
Another reported military attack on Jeroblou Marian shrine in Pekhon near Loikaw in Kayah on June 6 could not be independently confirmed.
According to the Vatican’s Fides news agency, Kayah is the state with the highest percentage of Christians in Myanmar. It has over 90,000 Catholics— almost a third of the 355,000 inhabitants of the state.
Caritas, the Catholic Church’s social arm, is working with various partners and donors to help some 300,000 people displaced by the indiscriminate violence.
Myanmar has been plunged into chaos since the February 1 military coup that ousted the elected government and detained its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Protests and strikes against the coup have paralyzed parts of the economy.
Christians are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million population. Myanmar Catholics represent about 1.5 percent of the population. (Read: Catholic Nuns, Priests Join Anti-Coup Protests in Myanmar)
The crisis has also re-ignited Myanmar’s old conflicts between the military and some of the armed ethnic organizations. Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen, and Kayah ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian.
An estimated one-third of Myanmar’s territory— mostly the border regions— is currently controlled by 20-odd armed rebel outfits. The military has stepped up its offensive against ethnic guerrillas and anti-coup resistance groups by deploying fighter jets and heavy artillery.
Prayers From the Church
Last Sunday’s attack on Mary Queen of Peace took place despite an appeal by Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, who urged all parties in conflict to keep clear of places of worship in keeping with international protocols and conventions. (Read: Myanmar Cardinal Says Good Works, Prayers Will Heal the Nation)
Meanwhile, Pope Francis on Tuesday led a minute of worldwide prayer for peace in the Holy Land and Myanmar. The peace initiative of the International Forum of Catholic Action (IFCA) received support from local Catholic Action organizations, the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, and other entities.