“Sadly, my thought turns in particular to Myanmar, where the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in the Village of Can Thar – one of the most ancient and important places of worship in the country – was burned and destroyed. I am close to the helpless civilian population subject to severe trials in many cities”, said Pope Francis after the recitation of the Angelus prayer, this past Sunday 22 January. “Please God that this conflict will soon come to an end, opening a new period of forgiveness, love and peace. Let us pray together to Our Lady for Myanmar”, he added.
United to the Holy Father’s request to pray for peace in Myanmar, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) announces a prayer initiative to coincide with the second anniversary of the coup which has spread terror and suffering in the country. The three-day prayer initiative will begin on 30 January and end on the anniversary itself, 1 February. The following is a statement on the situation in Myanmar by executive president of ACN Thomas Heine-Geldern.
As we prepare to mark the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar, on 1 February, we ask God to move the hearts of all those who can put a stop to this tragedy. We pray also for all the internally displaced, including children, women, the elderly and sick in the affected areas. There are hundreds of thousands of them, and many struggling to survive from day to day. There are countless testimonies of suffering.
It is heart-breaking to hear of people stranded by the side of the road, who don’t know where to go because they have spent the past year-and-a-half without finding a safe-haven, often wandering from one place to the next.
ACN also asks for prayers for those who accompany the faithful in their flight, to provide them with pastoral and sacramental support. Over these 24 months of strife and horror we have witnessed the consolation and support that the presence of religious men and women provide to the displaced. Many feel defenceless and helpless. The presence of the Church gives them some hope, but we need to pray especially for the priests, religious and catechists, as they are subject to enormous psychological and physical stress.
We continue to receive messages from Myanmar. “Things are going from bad to worse. Pray for us”. Let’s not leave them alone, we ask God to support them all so that they can carry on their mission of love and sacrifice for the people, regardless of their faith, ethnicity or origin.
Air raids, antipersonnel mines, fighting between armed groups, military checkpoints and power cuts, all present obstacles to the work of the Church in so many places, and it is impressive to witness the acts of heroism which take place in the midst of so many difficulties. “We do what we can to continue to teach the children, we sing songs with them to try and get them to smile”, says one of our contacts in a high-danger zone.
Some of the most affected areas include the states of Chin, Kayah and Karen, which have a considerable Christian population that has seen many regular pastoral activities grind to a halt amidst a humanitarian crisis of great proportions. At least 16 parishes have been abandoned, 19 churches and religious buildings destroyed in the state of Kayah. Many priests and religious have accompanied their people, taking refuge in the jungle or in remote communities.
These places have witnessed atrocities and direct violence, in others the Church is helping, despite serious risks, to deal with this increasingly large number of internally displaced, lacking even the most basic amenities required to survive. On Church grounds, in the jungle or in camps, the victims are given support regardless of their faith. Volunteers distribute food, blankets, firewood, medicine, and other emergency aid items to all who need them.
Let us also pray for respect for life and the inviolability of places of worship. We know of churches, chapels and religious houses that have been destroyed, burned, or bombed. We know of sacred places that have been desecrated. Each house, monastery, temple or church the regime bombs or burns means an attack on the identity and cohesion of the community.
As the fighting becomes more serious, respect for places of worship in general, including their own, disappears. By July 2022, around one third of the 130 religious buildings destroyed by the regime since the coup were Buddhist monasteries or pagodas.
Let us pray for an end to violence and a return to dialogue, which would be a considerable source of strength for the future of Myanmar. What this country, that has endured such suffering throughout its history, most needs at the moment is peace.