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Religious icons keep Myanmar market customers happy

Former seminarian sells items featuring the Holy Family alongside stalls packed with vegetables and clothes

Religious icons keep Myanmar market customers happy

Gregory Ko Pho supports his family by selling icons of the Holy Family, Mother Mary and Infant Jesus at the market in Demoso, Myanmar. (Photo by Michael Coyne/ucanews.com).

John Zaw, Demoso
Myanmar

January 11, 2018

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Gregory Ko Pho displays icons of the Holy Family, Mother Mary and Infant Jesus every Wednesday and Saturday in a community market in Myanmar.

It’s an unusual scenario in the market in Demoso town in Kayah State as the only shop selling religious icons is seen alongside stalls of vegetables, commodities and clothes in the Catholic-majority region.

Hundreds of people crowd into the market in the remote town, which was neglected by the former military regime for decades.

Ko Pho opened a shop selling religious icons in his home but extended his business to the market at the request of some Catholics.

Catholics from outside Demoso come to the market and buy items from his shop. Customers mostly come from villages near his town but some come from remote villages.

“Most Catholics buy Holy Family and Mother Mary icons at prices varying from 10,000 kyats (US$80) to 20,000 kyats,” said Ko Pho as he pointed to the items.

The icons are made in Yangon and Mandalay before being delivered to Ko Pho.

He told ucanews.com: “Sometimes I sell at least two items a day and this small business helps my family’s livelihood.”

The Kayah, Kayan and Kayaw are the main ethnic groups alongside the Burmese and Shan minority in Kayah State, which is regarded as a Catholic stronghold with 84,000 Catholics among the population of 300,000.

Ko Pho, 60, is a former seminarian who spent more than 10 years at minor and major seminaries.

While he was attending St. Joseph Catholic Major Seminary in Yangon to learn theology, an uprising erupted in the country in August 1988 that led to the seminary’s closure. 

A vicious military assault on student-led demonstrations against Myanmar's military rulers on Aug. 8, 1988, sparked a huge popular uprising against the junta.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country calling for democracy in protests that came to a brutal end the following month with an army crackdown that killed more than 3,000.

A vicious military assault on the student-led demonstrations against Myanmar's military rulers on Aug. 8, 1988, sparked a huge popular uprising against the junta.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country calling for democracy in protests that came to a brutal end the following month with an army crackdown that killed more than 3,000.

“I came back to my home together with my friends but I didn’t go back to the seminary when the school was open again,” said Ko Pho.

Some of his friends from the seminary took part in a demonstration in Demoso town.

 

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