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Myanmar Catholics mark Michaelmas despite fighting

Hundreds celebrate feast of St. Michael days after a historic Catholic village was shelled
A stone carving of St. Michael, whose feast day was celebrated in Myanmar on Sept 29 amid continuing conflict in Christian areas of the country

A stone carving of St. Michael, whose feast day was celebrated in Myanmar on Sept 29 amid continuing conflict in Christian areas of the country. (Photo: Supplied) 

Published: September 30, 2022 08:03 AM GMT
Updated: September 30, 2022 08:26 AM GMT

Catholics from a village in Myanmar's embattled northwestern Sagaing region have celebrated the feast of St. Michael amid ongoing fighting.

Hundreds of villagers joined the celebration at St. Michael’s Church in Monhla village where the parish priest led the Mass on Sept. 29.

Clergy and faithful from surrounding villagers were not able to participate in this year’s celebration as fighting raged between Myanmar’s military and local militia groups.

Just three days before the feast, the villagers almost fled as artillery shelling damaged several houses in the village, though no casualties were reported.

One villager said shells hit three houses on Sept. 26 but they had no idea where the shelling came from.

A Catholic devotee staying with relatives away from the village said she was saddened that she couldn’t join the novena and the feast day this year.

"Junta has stepped up an offensive in the region"

“When we were planning to go back and join the feast, we heard the military raided a nearby village so we were too afraid to return,” she said.

Church sources said some villagers have already fled their homes and taken temporary refuge at relatives’ homes and church premises since late July following a military raid on a nearby village.

Buddhists and Catholics have lived together peacefully for decades in Monhla, which was home to Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon and Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay.

The junta has stepped up an offensive in the region — a stronghold of resistance against the military which ousted the civilian government in February 2021 — with shelling, air strikes and the burning of houses in several villages that have displaced thousands.

In one recent tragedy, at least 11 children were killed in a Sept. 16 air strike on a village school that triggered global condemnation.

UN investigators said the attack on Let Ye Kone, in the Sagaing region “may be considered a war crime with commanders criminally liable.”

Catholic bishops have repeatedly called for respect for human life and the sanctity of places of worship, hospitals and schools in the conflict-torn Southeast Asian nation.

“I am deeply disheartened to learn about the suffering of thousands of people, especially from villages including Catholics whose homes were burned, properties looted and who have become homeless, displaced and are in dire need of food and shelter,” Archbishop Tin Win said in a recent video message.

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