At least 14 parishes in one Burmese state alone have been abandoned, with clergy forced to hide in the jungle and laity sheltering in a cathedral, a Catholic charity has been told.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – which is marking the upcoming anniversary of the power grab on Tuesday (1st February) with an international day of prayer – was told by a local source about one example of the coup’s effect on Burma (Myanmar)’s population.
Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, international executive president of ACN, said: “Even though communication remains very difficult, ACN has learned that at least 14 parishes in the state of Kayah have been abandoned.
“Many priests and members of religious orders have accompanied their people, taking refuge in the jungle or in remote villages. Others remain in almost deserted villages.”
The states of Chin, Kayah and Karen are some of the worst hit by the conflict, and all of them have sizable Christian populations – majority Buddhist areas such as Sagaing and Magway have also been hit by the fighting
On Christmas Eve, in Mo So village, Kayah state, more than 35 innocent civilians were killed, burned and maimed.
Dr Heine-Geldern said: “Over the past weeks, one of the main targets for army attacks was Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state.
“Among the thousands of refugees from the surrounding areas, there were also 300 internally displaced people who have taken refuge in the cathedral compound. Most of these are elderly, women, disabled and children who had nowhere to go, or means to escape.”
He added: “It has been a year of terror and suffering, which has disrupted the course of this Asian country. The response of the military leadership to the massive demonstrations against its abuse of power has been ruthless and brutal.”
The coup began on 1st February 2021 when the military seized power after detaining the elected civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The army’s TV station said power had been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing after the army alleged that NLD’s recent landslide victory was won by fraud.
According to the UNHCR, as of 17th January 2022 the official number of displaced within Burma stood at 405,700 and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs estimates that 25 million Burmese will be at risk of poverty in 2022.
Speaking about ACN’s day of prayer, Dr Heine-Geldern said: “ACN wants to remember the dead and intercede for the innocent civilian population, especially for internally displaced persons including children, women, elderly and the sick in the afflicted areas, regardless of ethnicities and faiths.”