February 1 marks the first anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar. It has been a year of terror and suffering, which has disrupted the course of this Asian country. The response of the military leadership to the massive demonstrations against its abuse of power has been ruthless and brutal. In the months following the coup the world watched, in shock and apparently powerless, as Myanmar descended into violence.
On 1 February, the international charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need calls for a day of prayer to join the appeal of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar on January 14th, as a sign of solidarity and fraternity with the local Church.
Among the regions that suffer most from this conflict are the states of Chin, Kayah and Karen, where the army has faced off against militias, in areas marked by a history of ethnically driven conflict. Since mid-December, when the end of the rainy season made movements easier, the attacks have intensified again, especially in the south-east. These states include sizeable Christian populations, a fact about which ACN is especially concerned.
Even though communication remains very difficult, ACN has learned that at least 14 parishes in the state of Kayah have been abandoned. Many priests and members of religious orders have accompanied their people, taking refuge in the jungle or in remote villages. Others remain in almost deserted villages. Over the past weeks, one of the main targets for army attacks was Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state. Among the thousands of refugees from the surrounding areas, there were also 300 internally displaced people who have taken refuge in the cathedral compound. Most of these are elderly, women, disabled and children who had nowhere to go, or means to escape.
The Christmas massacre of at least 35 innocent civilians, killed, burned and maimed in Mo So village, Kayah state, was a terrible and heartbreaking atrocity. Airstrikes in Karen state have forced thousands of people to flee across the border into Thailand. Myanmar is a country at war.
With this day of prayer, ACN wants to remember the dead and intercede for the innocent civilian population, especially for internally displaced persons including children, women, elderly and the sick in the afflicted areas, regardless of ethnicities and faiths. Let us pray for all these thousands on the move, many of them at risk of starving.
As fighting intensifies, the Church is faced with a task with which it is sadly familiar, because of the conflicts that have plagued Myanmar in the past: to attend to the increasingly large number of IDPs on Church grounds, the jungle or in camps. As always, all the victims receive support, regardless of their faith. Volunteers distribute food and other emergency aid to those in need.
In situations like these people hunger and thirst for more than food and water, they need spiritual support as well. Despite the difficulties, our brothers and sisters in Myanmar have not stopped practicing their faith, on the contrary, we know that Holy Mass and communion, sometimes distributed door-to-door, remain a “great consolation” for the faithful. One can only imagine the relief felt by families when, instead of armed military, they open their doors to find a priest who, like a Good Shepherd, risks his own life to visit his faithful.
On 1 February, the charity calls for prayer for all the priests, religious and catechists who accompany the faithful in their flight from life-threatening dangers to provide pastoral accompaniment and sacramental support. We ask God to support all of them to continue their mission of love and sacrifice for the people, irrespective of faith, race and place.
According to the UNHCR, as of 17 January 2022 the official number of displaced within Myanmar stood at 405,700 as a result of armed conflict and unrest since 1 February 2021. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that the number of Burmese at risk of poverty will increase to 25 million during 2022, 14.4 million of whom are expected to need humanitarian aid.
One year after the military coup in Myanmar, let us pray to God to move the hearts of those who can facilitate access to suffering and internally displaced peoples, to provide them basic humanitarian assistance. Let us pray also for the respect for life and for the inviolability of sanctuaries of worship, hospitals and schools.
The bishops of Myanmar – either individually, collectively or with representatives of other faiths – have repeatedly called for the violence to end and a return to dialogue. They have called especially for prayer. Since the beginning, the people and the Church of Myanmar have been accompanied by the compassion and prayer of the Universal Church. During his Urbi et Orbi blessing, on Christmas Day, the Holy Father once again asked for prayers for Myanmar.
ACN echoes this request and asks its benefactors to join their voices in prayer for this intention on the day of the first anniversary. Peace is what this country, which has endured so much suffering during its history, needs most. ACN thanks all the people of good will, benefactors and friends who will join our appeal.