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Nuns on the front line fight to save Myanmar's democracy

Young people are the ones leading this protest for fear of losing their future, Good Shepherd sisters say

Gerald Mayer

Gerald Mayer

Published: March 13, 2021 05:18 AM GMT

Updated: March 13, 2021 10:30 AM GMT

Nuns on the front line fight to save Myanmar's democracy

A Good Shepherd sister leads prayers in front of the Chinese embassy in Yangon on Feb. 21. (Photo: Good Shepherd Sisters)

Sister Rebecca Kay Thi Oo and Sister Eunan Lawrence of the Good Shepherd Sisters are shocked by the military coup in Myanmar. When they joined protesters on the streets, they felt unity in the longing for democracy. "We cannot stay inside our churches," they say. "We need to fight."

DOMRADIO.DE, a Catholic radio station in Germany, conducted this interview with Sister Rebecca, East Asia province leader of the congregation, and Sister Eunan, part of the Myanmar leadership team.

DOMRADIO.DE: What do the Christian and Catholic communities in Myanmar think about the military coup?

SISTER REBECCA: Like anyone in Myanmar, like all people. Catholics are very angry with the situation. It's a very unfortunate and unexpected situation. On February 1, we woke up with this bad news. Nobody expected it because our country already was on the way to democracy. But now it is going right back through the military coup.

DOMRADIO.DE: Do the people trust the military to return to democracy after one year as they announced?

SISTER EUNAN: As one of the citizens of Myanmar, I don't think they can go on like this because every person has a strong hope and faith that the military dictatorship must be eliminated. With all our strength and our hope, we are trying our best to end the military coup very soon. We cannot have that kind of situation again in our country.

They may say it's only for one year that they take over the country. We know exactly that they are not reliable. They take over the country for one year and will continue taking over the country for years. It happened many times in history. We don't want that kind of history to repeat itself.

The military are only a handful. We are afraid of them because of the weapons they are carrying. If they didn't have any weapons, the people's power would be much bigger than theirs.

DOMRADIO.DE: We see lots of sisters taking part in the demonstrations. Why is it that these religious people are so active in the protests?

SISTER REBECCA: Because we are citizens of Myanmar. Everything that happens in Myanmar affects the religious people. Human rights violations have always been there in the past.

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Still, in the past few years, we expected that our rights as religious were violated. We as religious can still not vote in elections. Rights have been violated for many, many years. We cannot just close our eyes or close our ears, seeing people demanding social justice. The Catholic Church teaches that we have to defend human rights and the dignity of all children of God. So, we have to join the people and support them.

As religious, the mission of the congregation is to uphold the rights and dignity of people. Like Pope Francis says, we have to be out on the streets. We cannot stay inside our churches praying and feel safe ourselves. We have to take action and fight together with the people.

DOMRADIO.DE: Do the sisters of your congregation join the demonstrations too?

SISTER REBECCA: Yes, of course. We have been the first ones to go out to the streets with the people. Young people are the ones leading this protest. They have a very, very positive view of that. They said that they are ready to do anything and to fight for democracy, to fight for their rights.

They still have hope that we will win and it is just a matter of time.

We don't go out with pain and a negative attitude. We go out together. It's a sense of unity of the people. Together we can fight against this military regime. We see many people even willing to give their lives. It's really wonderful to see many people united. They are very generous in contributing whatever they have. As a congregation, we contribute whatever we have: We are providing drinks and food when the protesters are out on the street and they are hungry.

DOMRADIO.DE: Does it connect the religions too?

SISTER EUNAN: Christians, Buddhists, even the Muslims. People from different religions are participating with the same mind and with the same goal: to end the military coup. When I was out on the streets together with the people, I really felt the unity and positive energy that are spreading among the protesters. It gives us hope and drives me to continue the fight for democracy. I feel the solidarity. I see people protecting people. They are fighting for their future. They don't want their future to be crushed and scared by the brutal acts of the military.

DOMRADIO.DE: Did you feel fear when you took part in the demonstrations?

SISTER EUNAN: When I was out on the day there was a nationwide strike, I didn't have fear. But during recent days the military started to act violently.

Actually, I don't fear their brutal acts for myself. But I fear that they will violate the human rights of my people and of the other sisters in my congregations. They used to do that in the past. If they cannot catch the responsible person, they will catch the members of their family or anyone related to that person. That kind of concern came into my mind, concern for my sisters.

SISTER REBECCA: These days they are killing, torturing and arresting peaceful protesters. What we feel is that we need to live in order to fight for this democracy. We are being prudent and do not confront them. They have guns. They can just easily kill people. We need to survive to fight for the future of our people. That is why we stay inside the past few days. At the same time, our hearts and minds are with the young people who are still going out every day.

Good Shepherd sisters support protesters in Yangon on Feb. 10. (Photo: Good Shepherd Sisters)

DOMRADIO.DE: What do you expect from world leaders?

SISTER EUNAN: From the political perspective, we really expect help from other countries. People are asking for protection. We hope for any international action, but nothing has happened until now. For myself, I am not satisfied with the statements released by the UN or every single embassy in Myanmar. It is not enough. We need immediate assistance to protect our people. I am seeing the death of my people every day. I don't want them to suffer this way. They are shedding their blood. The death toll rises every day. I just want the international community to give us help and support to immediately end the military brutality happening in my country.

SISTER REBECCA: We really need more action against this military coup. They kill people every day. Even at this very moment.  They use real bullets, they torture people to death. It is heartbreaking to see what is being done to our people. They are violating international laws, they are violating UN charters that they have signed. They do not care about UN statements. We need actions of the international community or the Church. We are resisting, but we don't have any means. We are not powerful enough to stand against their violence. The UN, the ICJ (International Court of Justice) and the others responsible for human rights in the world should act immediately.

SISTER EUNAN: Can I say something about my feelings?

DOMRADIO.DE: Of course.

SISTER EUNAN: I have been living with this kind of military leadership all my life. This system is bad. The day when the military coup happened, I felt that my future is lost. (Sister Eunan is close to breaking out in tears.) My future is shattered and in ruins. Deep inside of me, there is a deep sadness. There is anger, disappointment, disgust.

This is not my own future. It is the future of the new generation. It is the future of the new ones. And I don't want this generation to experience the way I have felt throughout my life: There were no human rights. Only in the last five years have we tasted what democracy is like. There has been a lot of development in every aspect of our lives, especially in education and health sectors.

Now it is stuck. Not only stuck but going back under the military coup. I have the fear that there will be no more chance for new generations to experience democracy. It is so very disgusting at this point.

The situation has shaken us and woken us up. We have a new insight now. We have the strength and hope that we can live our lives in our way. But we have to fight in every way we can.

This interview was conducted by Gerald Mayer and first published here by DOMRADIO.DE, the multimedia, catholic broadcaster sponsored by Bildungswerk eV of the Archdiocese of Cologne.

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