Priests, nuns and seminarians take part in a procession in Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, to pray for peace and show solidarity with the people of Myanmar on Feb. 9. (Photo: Aung Nge Philip)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) and the Myanmar Council of Churches have appealed to the military for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained leaders while urging them to act in a peaceful way.
Christian leaders said they share the same feelings as people who have voiced concern over the imposition of a state of emergency following the military’s seizure of power on Feb. 1.
“We appeal to Christians to pray and fast towards prevailing peace, justice and development in the country,” the leaders said in a statement on Feb. 9.
They also urged citizens of Myanmar to refrain from all forms of violence and discrimination and called on the international community to give a hand to the needs of people in Myanmar.
Pope Francis has called for the release of all detained political leaders and expressed his solidarity with the people of Myanmar.
Nationwide protests are intensifying against the coup that removed Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy-led government.
On Feb. 9, thousands of people took to the streets in Naypyitaw, Yangon, Mandalay and other cities in defiance of a ban on large gatherings.
Police used water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition in the demonstrations in Naypyitaw, where one woman was killed and another was hospitalized, according to media reports.
At least 60 people were arrested by police who cracked down on the protests in Mandalay by using water cannons and tear gas, according to media reports.
The United Nations has condemned the use of force by security forces. “I call on the security forces to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Ola Almgren, UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said in a statement on Feb. 9.
On Feb. 9, the CBCM issued a directive signed by Cardinal Charles Bo, president of the CBCM, and Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, its general secretary.
“Priests, religious people and seminarians are not allowed to hold demonstrations on the streets by holding Catholic Church flags or with Catholic symbols or with the names of Catholic organizations,” the letter said.
It said laypeople can express their support as citizens of Myanmar but not to use Catholic symbols and the Church’s flag.
The bishops’ directive comes after priests, nuns and seminarians in Loikaw, a Catholic stronghold in northeast Myanmar, staged a procession for peace and to show solidarity with the people of Myanmar.
Archbishop Marco Tin Win and several priests stood before the church compound and showed the three-finger salute as protesters marched on the streets of Mandalay on Feb. 8.
Several Catholics have spoken out on social media over the bishops' directive. One said it was "authoritarian” while one priest requested the CBCM to retract the directive immediately.
“Peaceful demonstrations against a dictator or injustice are encouraged by the social teachings of the Church,” the priest wrote in a Facebook post.