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Myanmar junta torches century-old Catholic church

129-year-old Assumption Church was completely destroyed along with 500 homes in a Christian village
The 129-year-old Assumption Church in the Sagaing region was completely destroyed in a raid by junta forces on Jan.15

The 129-year-old Assumption Church in the Sagaing region was completely destroyed in a raid by junta forces on Jan.15. (Photo: People's Defense Comrade)

Published: January 17, 2023 07:47 AM GMT
Updated: January 18, 2023 06:45 AM GMT

Myanmar junta forces have continued their attacks on Christian communities by torching a more than century-old Catholic church in a predominantly Christian village.

The 129-year-old Assumption Church in Chan Thar in Ye-U township in the northwestern Sagaing region was set ablaze on Jan. 15, along with many villagers' homes. 

The church was completely destroyed in the inferno. However, there were no human casualties as villagers managed to flee before the army arrived.

“We are deeply sorrowful as our historic church has been destroyed. It was our last hope,” a Catholic villager, who did not want to be identified due to repercussions by the army, said.

Villagers said a Marian grotto and the adoration chapel were spared. But the parish priest’s house and the nuns’ convent were destroyed.

They said the army arrived in the village in the conflict-torn Sagaing region on the evening of Jan. 14 and set many houses on fire and stayed in the church overnight before setting it ablaze early on Jan. 15, when local Catholics were expected to arrive for worship. 

More than 500 houses in the village were also destroyed. in what was the fourth raid on the village in eight months.

“We have no more houses and the church where there was an antique painting of St Mary, which can't be replaced,” another resident who wished to remain anonymous said.

The junta is targeting the Sagaing region to tackle growing resistance to its rule by people’s defense forces who are suspected to be based there.

Christians make up around 8.2  percent of Myanmar's 55 million population. The junta has repeatedly raided Chan Thar since May, 2022.  Nearly 20 houses were destroyed and two Catholics, including a mentally disturbed person, were killed during a raid on May 7, 2022. More than 100 houses were set ablaze a month later on June 7. In a raid on Dec.14, more than 300 houses were torched.

Thousands have fled the village since last May and taken shelter in churches near Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, and at relatives’ homes in other parts of the country.

Chaung Yoe, Mon Hla and Chan Thar, which are part of Mandalay archdiocese, are known as Bayingyi villages because their inhabitants claim that they are the descendants of Portuguese adventurers who arrived in the region in the 16th and 17th centuries. These villages have produced many bishops, priests, and nuns for the Church.

The Assumption Church was consecrated on Feb. 18, 1894.

The ongoing strife in the southeast Asian nation, triggered by the military ousting of the democratically elected civilian government in February 2021, has seen churches and convents attacked in Christian-majority Kayah, Chin, Karen and Kachin states. Many priests and pastors have been killed and arrested.

More than 460 civilians have been killed in junta bombing campaigns, according to the parallel civilian National Unity Government.

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