Calls by Pope Francis and Cardinal Charles Bo for junta to protect places of worship fall on deaf ears
Our Lady of Sorrow Church was damaged by shells fired by the military in Pekhon diocese in Myanmar on Feb.4. ( Photo: supplied)
Despite calls citing the Hague Conventions by Church leaders in Myanmar for the protection of places of worship, yet another church was hit by the junta's forces on Feb.4.
Two artillery shells fell on Our Lady of Sorrow Church in Pekhon diocese following intense fighting between the military and rebel groups near Hwarikhu, a village in Christian-majority Kayah state.
No casualties were reported, but the roof and ceiling of the church in Hwarikhu parish were damaged.
At least 10 houses were also destroyed, according to local media reports.
Reports said thousands of people from the parish fled following what was described as indiscriminate shelling by the military on the border of Kayah and Shan states. Hwarikhu parish covers the southern Shan and Kayah states.
Along with Loikaw diocese, Pekhon is one of the worst affected Christian-majority areas, where at least 10 Catholic churches have been destroyed by the army.
At least six churches in the diocese have been closed, while churches, including the Sacred Heart Cathedral, have been repeatedly attacked and damaged.
More than 150,000 civilians, including Catholics in Kayah and Shan states, have been forced to seek shelter in churches, makeshift camps and in the jungle, according to aid groups.
The 129-year-old Our Lady of Assumption Church in Chan Thar in Mandalay Archdiocese was reduced to ashes in an arson attack by the junta on Jan.20 that got the attention of Pope Francis, who decried the destruction of the country's oldest church.
Five out of 16 dioceses — Loikaw, Pekhon, Hakha, Kalay and Mandalay — are affected by the ongoing conflict between the army and the armed ethnic rebel groups comprising Christians and ethnic Buddhists opposing the February 2021 ouster of the civil government.
The latest church attack came two weeks after senior churchmen in the country appealed to the military rulers to protect the sanctity of places of worship.
“Increasingly, places of worship and monasteries, where communities seek peace and reconciliation, are themselves under attack,” Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, and Archbishops Marco Tin Win of Mandalay and Basilio Athai of Taunggyi said in a Jan. 20 letter.
They cited international agreements like The Hague Conventions which call for the protection of places of worship, places of learning, and places of healing.
Christians make up nearly 6 percent of Myanmar’s population of 54 million and Buddhism is the state religion with 89 percent of the population following it.
Nearly 3,000 people have lost their lives in a brutal military crackdown and over 17,000 have been detained since the coup on Feb.1, 2021, according to a local monitoring group.
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