Air strike damages Catholic convent as Myanmar conflict continues

The flag of Burma (Myanmar) The flag of Burma (Myanmar). | Creative Photo Corner/Shutterstock.

The Myanmar conflict’s destruction continued early Thursday morning, when a military aircraft attack on a town in the east of the country caused severe damage to a Catholic convent’s roof, ceiling, and windows.

Two Myanmar military aircraft hit the Sisters of Reparation convent, which serves as a retirement home and hospital for aging nuns. The convent is in Doungankha village in Demoso township in the eastern state of Kayah, a green and mountainous region which borders Thailand. 

The convent is next to Our Lady, Queen of Peace Catholic Church, which itself was damaged in a June 2021 artillery barrage, the Hong Kong-based Catholic media service UCA News reports.

On March 8, an airstrike caused severe damage to  Our Lady of Fatima Church in Saun Du La village, which is also in Demoso township.

Since fighting began in May 2021, eight Catholic churches in Kayah’s Diocese of Loikaw have been hit by artillery shelling or airstrikes. Some 16 parishes in the diocese have been abandoned because of the fighting.

Military operations have increased in Kayah, targeting those who resist the military junta with air strikes and heavy weapons.

The conflict has its roots in the coup of Feb. 1, 2021, when the Myanmar armed forces seized power. Mass protests followed, which the military leaders attempted to suppress by force.

Ethnic armed groups and resistance groups have clashed with the military, especially in the states of Kachin, Kayah, Karen, and Chin. 

Since the coup, more than 12,000 people have been arrested and 1,600 killed in the conflict, including 50 children. According to UCA News, the military junta has deliberately targeted churches, other institutions, and civilians.

Kayah has some 300,000 people and a relatively large Christian population, including some 90,000 Catholics. However, Church officials have said 60,000 of these Catholics have been forced to flee their homes. The Karenni Civil Society Network says 170,000 of the state’s residents have fled their homes due to the pressures of the conflict.

There are about 503,000 displaced persons in Myanmar as a whole. Their numbers grow by about 50,000 each week, according to the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees. 

The conflict in the state has caused civilian casualties and led to fires set at about 100 properties, the refugee agency said. 

There are around 4.4 million Christians in all of Myanmar, also known as Burma. It is a predominantly Buddhist country of 54.8 million people bordering Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. There are some 750,000 Catholics in the country, including Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, the first Burmese national to become a cardinal.

Myanmar’s people face steep rises in food and fuel prices. Last year, the U.N. World Food Program has estimated that 3.4 million more people in the country could go hungry due to political instability, the coronavirus crisis, and pre-existing poverty.

Since the coup, Pope Francis has called repeatedly for peace in the country.

In January, Cardinal Bo said the whole country is a “war zone.” He lamented the “spiraling chaos, confusion, conflict, and human agony.”

“As bishops, we continue our accompaniment of our people, advocating for humanitarian access, and urging all parties toward a journey of peace and reconciliation,” he told Vatican News in an interview published Jan. 31.

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“Places of worship have been violated. Deaths occurred inside the churches. The bishops’ conference condemned the church bombings and also the inhuman killing,” the cardinal added.

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