Anglicans and Buddhists live in harmony in Myanmar

A village in conflict-torn Kayin State sets a shining example for interfaith relations and peaceful coexistence
Anglicans and Buddhists live in harmony in Myanmar

Women prepare food for a marriage celebration in Kapali village, Kayin State, Myanmar, on May 24. People of different religions live in peace in the village. (ucanews.com photo)

On a sunny day in late May, villagers from Kapali in Myanmar's Kayin (Karen) State gathered at a marriage celebration and helped cook meals for the bridegroom's relatives and other guests.

His parents celebrated in the tradition of Kayin Buddhists even though their son was not present. He has been working in Thailand and got married there with a girl from the same village.

John Rein, a Kayin Anglican, was among villagers who helped with the marriage party in a village where Buddhists and Anglicans have lived harmoniously for several decades.

"Buddhists give their help to Christian celebrations and Christians also help their festivals. We have lived together peacefully," Rein told ucanews.com.

Residents in Kapali, 35 kilometers from state capital Hpa-an, have no quarrels over religion and see each other as brothers and sisters despite their differing beliefs.

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A Buddhist monastery, an Anglican church and tribal worship places are dotted around a village with more than 2,000 inhabitants who grow rice in the rainy season and beans in the cold season.

Most villagers earn just enough for daily survival and cannot save much money. "I have lived in the village since my childhood and have never been abroad," said Rein, a 59-year-old father of four.

John Rein, an Anglican, was among villagers who helped with a Buddhist marriage celebration in Kapali. (ucanews.com photo)

 

Lwin Win, a 56-year-old Buddhist, said Buddhists and Anglicans have lived together since the British ruled the country. "We have no prejudice against any religion as we all are living together through mutual respect and collaboration," he told ucanews.com.

Villagers fear both Myanmar's military and the Karen National Union (KNU) in the conflict-torn region that has suffered civil war for 70 years. The KNU has fought Myanmar's military since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Villagers have provided food for both sides. "We don't want clashes anymore and want peace as civilians bear the brunt of fighting," Naw Grace, a 70-year-old Buddhist and former teacher, told ucanews.com.

Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority country but Anglicans number about 60,000 across six dioceses.

In Kayin, Christians make up 9.5 percent of the state's 1.5 million people, including about 20,000 Catholics. Buddhists represent the lion's share, or 84.5 percent, with Muslims accounting for another 4.6 percent and Hindus just 0.6 percent, according to a 2014 census.

Thein Tin, a 62-year-old Buddhist woman, points at a photo of her mother-in-law Naw Dar, who met Gen. Aung San, a national hero and the father of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. Naw Dar was among youngsters who welcomed Gen. Aung San when he visited Kapali in December 1946.

Naw Dar, an Anglican who died in 2015 at 96, also met Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), when she visited the village in 2014.

"She (Suu Kyi) told Naw Dar to keep healthy until she became the president of the country. Naw Dar replied that she wanted her to reach the highest position, even beyond president," said Thein Tin, a mother of three.

Thein Tin, a Buddhist, shows a photo of her mother-in-law Naw Dar, who met Aung San Suu Kyi and her father, Gen. Aung San. (ucanews.com photo)

 

Suu Kyi gave a speech before a crowd in the compound of the Anglican church. Villagers say they support her NLD party and voted for it in the 2015 general election.

Kapali has a government-run high school and is near a township hospital but electricity has yet to reach the village despite cables along nearby roads.

Many young people from the village have flocked to Thailand for employment and send money to their families.

"Young men and women from almost every house go to Thailand to work at factories or in construction jobs as there are no employment opportunities here," Thein Tin said.

Others are concerned that many young men working in Thailand may become addicted to drugs. "I don't want young men to go abroad as they are away from families and may be victims of drugs," said Naw Grace.

More than 50 percent of young people in Kayin and Mon states of employable age have worked in Thailand and Malaysia. In Thailand, 1.43 million of its migrant workers come from Myanmar, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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