Churches hit as Myanmar military escalates attacks, while claiming to support Christians

(Photo: REUTERS / Soe Zeya Tun)Catholics listen to a speech as they mark the 500th Jubilee Year of the Presence of Catholic Church in Myanmar in St. Mary church in Yangon, November 21, 2014.

Myanmar's military rulers have continually targeted churches and civilians in predominantly Christian regions where thousands of people have been displaced since their coup on Feb. 1 last year.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Doukhu Parish of Loikaw township in Kayah state was hit by military airstrikes on Jan. 12, according to church sources, UCA News reported.

One of the two bell towers of the church was destroyed but there were no reported casualties of civilians.

A local priest denounced the attack as abominable and sacrilegious. 

Most tragically, the ones who are suffering because of the brutal persecution are the people of God," he wrote on Facebook.

The latest attack came as the junta continued aerial bombardments and artillery shelling in Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, during intense fighting with local militias and armed groups.

In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, nearly 4.4 million of the 54.8 million population are Christian says Open Doors, a group that supports persecuted Christians worldwide.

The group says Buddhist nationalism is especially strong in Myanmar and drives much of the persecution of Christians.

Muslims also face strong perecution in Maynamar particularly the ethnic Rohingya's of whom hundreds of thousands have been forced to take refuge in Bangladesh and other countries.

FEB 1, 2021 COUP

The army, which ruled Myanmar for nearly half a century before granting civilian leaders some power a decade ago, seized full control again in a Feb. 1 coup, The New York Times reported Dec. 26.

The military has since mounted a vicious crackdown against its opponents, some of whom have taken up arms. The army, known as the Tatmadaw, has a long history of committing atrocities against civilians, said the Times.

Father Francis Soe Naing, chancellor of Loikaw Diocese, said the clergy, nuns and parishioners had to leave as some parishes near Loikaw became a war zone.

"We will stay until the situation worsens despite almost all the people from the town having already left," he said.

The Irrawaddy, an independent newspaper covering Myanmar, on Jan. 1 carried a news story headlined, "Junta leader celebrates Christmas while bombing churches."

It carried a photograph of Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Charles Bo and coup leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon on December 23.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing sent military officers to make donations to Christian churches on Christmas Day.

He also presented gifts to Christian soldiers in the Myanmar military and said prayers along with them, according to the military's mouthpiece, the Myawaddy Daily newspaper.

The coup leader has also used Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Catholic Archbishop of Yangon, for regime propaganda the Irrawaddy commented.

On December 23, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing attended a ceremony to mark Christmas at the archbishop's church in the capital Yangon.

"That led to Cardinal Charles Maung Bo being widely criticized on social media and by Christian communities, after pictures of him cutting a cake along with the coup leader were circulated," said the newspaper.

While junta-controlled newspapers have exaggerated their leader's support for Christianity in Myanmar, dozens of churches in ethnic areas have been damaged by junta artillery strikes since the coup.

Thousands of ethnic people, many of whom are Christians, were forced to flee junta assaults and air raids, and so could not celebrate Christmas at home, said the Irrawaddy.

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