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Myanmar Catholics urge peace at Marian celebrations

Nearly 1,500 faithful from Mandalay archdiocese gather at Holy Rosary Marian shrine to pray for end to violence
Catholics form a procession at the Marian grotto at St. Columban's Cathedral in Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State

Catholics form a procession at the Marian grotto at St. Columban's Cathedral in Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State. (File photo: Hkun Awng Nlam)

Published: October 31, 2023 07:42 AM GMT
Updated: October 31, 2023 12:20 PM GMT

Many Catholics have joined Marian celebrations to seek an end to the sectarian strife in Myanmar after armed rebel groups started a new campaign against the ruling junta.

Nearly 1,500 faithful from Mandalay archdiocese in Central Myanmar and other parts of the conflict-torn country gathered at the Holy Rosary Marian shrine in Chanthargone village, near Mandalay city, and attended a Mass on Oct. 28 and 29.

Nearly 20 priests joined the Eucharistic celebrations on Oct. 29 at the annual event at upper Myanmar’s Marian shrine.

During the Mass, they urged Catholics to pray for peace.

“As Pope Francis urged us to do fasting and prayers for peace, let us pray for peace through Our Lady of Mary amid wars escalating in the world,” Father John Aye Kyaw from Mandalay archdiocese said during the homily.

Aye Aye, a Catholic pilgrim, told UCA News on Oct. 29 that as a Christian “we should bring positive changes” for peace to prevail. 

The pilgrims attended the Mass as three jet fighters took off from Mandalay International Airport, which is located near the Marian shrine. 

Mandalay archdiocese is affected by the ongoing conflict which has rendered thousands of Catholics homeless due to the military’s burning of villages.

In northern Shan state, fighting has increased after armed rebel groups started coordinated attacks on military posts from Oct. 27.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army have launched a campaign codenamed 'Operation 1027’.

They have seized several military posts and key roads, including Chinshwehaw which is close to the Chinese border.

Nearly 400 people, mostly Catholics, fled their homes in several villages in Lashio township to take shelter in two church compounds.

U Edward, a Church social worker from Lashio diocese, said, “The parishes and Church’s social arm, Caritas [Karuna], have provided cash and other non-food items to the displaced persons.”

“As people were gripped with fear over continued artillery shelling, they were forced to flee from their homes and take refuge in church compounds,” Edward told UCA News on Oct. 30.

Over 1,500 people, mostly Buddhists, have flocked to monasteries in Lashio town, according to the Church social worker.

“The whole night of Oct. 29 until Oct. 30 morning, we heard the sounds of shelling,” a resident from Lashio town who declined to be named told UCA News on Oct. 30.

Seven civilians, including two children, have been killed, and nine civilians, including a child, were injured in Shan state, according to the United Nations for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report on Oct. 30.

It is reported that more than 6,200 people have been displaced from five townships with around 1,000 people seeking shelter in the forest. More than 5,000 people are housed in temporary sites, while around 600 fled across the Chinese border.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Oct. 27 urged all parties “to stop fighting as soon as possible.”

Myanmar is in the grip of a civil war between the junta, which seized power after a coup in February 2021, and various armed rebel groups, including the newly formed People’s Defense Forces.

Various armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Army from the predominantly Christian Kachin state, have fought for decades with the military for autonomy and self-determination.

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