In Myanmar, Churches Burn in Silence

December 16, 2021
Burning of the city of Thantlang

Most often left out of the spotlight, the situation of Christians in Myanmar (formerly Burma) continues to deteriorate, as shown by the recent destruction of churches in the country.

“If churches and Catholic buildings are attacked again, all cordial relations will be interrupted and this will have painful consequences for all,” warns Msgr. Peter Hla, for whom the cup is full.

The bishop of Pekhon, a diocese located in Shan State, in eastern Myanmar, reacted to the latest abuses by Tatmadaw - the Myanmar army now in command of the country - which had just burned down on November 28, 2021, the Church of St. Nicholas and eighty homes in the city of Thantlang to punish residents for “collaborating with the rebels.”

The church, reduced to ashes at the present time, was only built twenty-eight years ago, long enough ago to allow the blossoming of two priestly vocations which have had the grace of perseverance until the end: a feat in a 90% Buddhist country, where the Catholic minority represents about 6% of the total population.

From the Christians’ point of view, the situation is far from improving, since the coup d'état which gave power to the army on February 1: “while the army is burning the homes of civilians, stopping and killing the local population, in several regions of the country, civilians are fleeing into the forests, into the territories of the dioceses of Hakha, Pekhon, and Loikaw respectively,” reports a local source to Fides.

In five months, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart - in which Bishop Hla officiates, to cite just this example, has been struck by rockets three times: “attacking the cathedral is like attacking the heart of every believer, all the faithful feel sad because of these abuses,” lamented the bishop of Pekhon.

A Burmese priest, speaking to the Fides agency, condemns the “double standards” on the part of the military junta now in power, noting that the gratuitous acts of violence against civilians and Christian places of worship increase frustration and protest by young people against the army: if churches have become the privileged target of military attacks, it is quite different for pagodas and Buddhist temples.

For the record, the Christian minority in Myanmar is mainly concentrated in the states of Chin (east), Kayah (west) and Kachin (north).

In addition, Christians mainly belong to ethnic minorities struggling for autonomy from the federal government, and who, for reasons of both ethnicity and religion, face long-standing hostility from the Burmese army, the majority of the members of which are of the Bamar ethnic group, and profess a Buddhism as strict as it is intolerant.

Cathedral of the Diocese of Pekhon, Myanmar