15 June 2022, The Tablet

Ancient Catholic villages in Myanmar targeted by military

Ancient Catholic villages in Myanmar targeted by military

Myanmar, in Southeast Asia, is among countries singled out in the US State Department's 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom for abusing citizens' religious rights. The report, which calls the country by its former name of Burma, was released in Washington June 2 this year.
CNS photo/Shwe Paw Mya Tin, Reuters

Catholic villages have been targeted by Myanmar’s military over the past months, leading to widespread destruction of infrastructure and crops, as well as the killing of livestock and at least five murders. 

The villages in question are inhabited by members of the Bayingyi minority. Bayingyis are descendants of Portuguese soldiers who settled in Myanmar in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many intermarried and remained even after the decline of Portugal’s influence, serving Burmese Kings as elite soldiers, always retaining their Catholic identity and practices. 

News of the attacks was verified by the International Association of Luso-Descendants (IALD). The first attacks took place at the end of 2021, and the most recent was on 20 May. The village of Chaung Yoe has been one of the hardest hit, says the group. It was attacked just before Christmas, then again in February, March and May. 

“In March the village was attacked by non-uniformed, but heavily armed men, who took particular aim at the Church complex, firing on the clergy’s house and taking three religious into custody. On the same day an inhabitant and his son were shot dead as they tried to flee through the rice paddies. The group also set fire to 17 houses, the chapel and the village shrine”, said Joaquim Castro, general director of IALD for the Asia Pacific region, speaking to the Portuguese office of Aid to the Church in Need. 

Soldiers returned on 20 May, this time with artillery. The villagers escaped, but of the 350 houses in the villages, only 20 were left intact. 

Previously, in January, the village of Chan-tha-ywa had been attacked. Livestock was slaughtered and three people were shot dead, according to the IALD. Twenty houses were laid to waste and crops were destroyed. 

“Due to this brutal repression, thousands of Bayingyis have been displaced and currently find themselves distributed among neighbouring villages or religious institutions. They are in urgent need of food, medicine, financial and moral support”, says the IALD in a statement on its website. Any donations, it adds, should be sent through the Diocese of Mandalay “the only institution capable of reaching the population and of negotiating with regime forces”. 


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