Myanmar: No Respite for Catholics

March 13, 2023

In Chin State (south-eastern Myanmar) Christians are being targeted by the increasing restrictions placed on their religious activities - especially on Sundays - by the military junta in power in the country since the coup d’état on February 1, 2021.

In a predominantly Buddhist Myanmar the population of which is 6% Christian, and less than 3% Catholics, the Burmese state of Chin is an exception: with 85% Christians, mostly Protestants – but Catholicism is on the rise there ( +9% between 2010 and 2015) – the Chin is one of the first to organize resistance to the February 1, 2021 coup.

An unforgivable sin for the military junta currently in power, which intends to make Christians pay for it: since the beginning of February, a strict curfew, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., has been imposed in seven of the nine cantons of Chin, as well as a ban on gatherings of more than five people, which directly targets Sunday Masses.

An ecclesiastical source exercising his ministry there, quoted by the Ucanews agency on March 3, 2023, indicates that the priests must request, seven days in advance, permission from the military to celebrate Mass and provide a list of the faithful likely to attend: “It made our parish activities, including Sunday services, difficult to hold because the new rules are becoming a headache,” specifies the priest.

The imposition of stricter rules follows the junta's declaration of martial law on February 2, 2023 in 37 townships of Sagaing, Magway, Bago and Tanitharyi and in Kayah, Karen and Mon states, after extending the another six-month state of emergency in the war-torn country.

On February 22, the junta announced martial law in three other townships in the northwest region of Sagaing where it is struggling to maintain control due to growing resistance from militias.

Hundreds of people have been arbitrarily detained and dozens killed while more than 70 religious buildings, including dozens of churches, have been destroyed since the army took power in February 2021, according to the Organization of Human Rights in Chin County.

Despite the blatant disinterest of the mainstream Western media with regard to the ordeal they are going through, the Catholics of Chin want to keep up theological hope. Fr. Joseph Phe Ling Lay set out Lenten resolutions for his faithful: “Let us fast from hatred towards others, even towards our enemies, to discover Christ living in them. Let us fast from the pessimism and dark thoughts that darken our hearts today, so as to fill us with Christian hope.”

“Let us fast from worries about the future, so that we may be filled with confidence and faith in God. Let us fast today from all that separates us from Christ Jesus, in order to be close to Him in all things, in this situation of work and suffering.”