Forced to move from village to village, sometimes by car, but mostly on foot, the Burmese flee the military junta's relentless bombardment. The testimony of one of the nuns of Reparation, whose convent was bombed a few days ago.
Yangon (AsiaNews) - On March 10 the Burmese military junta bombed a convent of the Sisters of Reparation in the village of Doungankha, Kayah State. In addition to accommodation, the building included a chapel, a kitchen and a centre for spiritual exercises dedicated to Fr Carlo Salerio, founder of the congregation.
The convent, used as a rest home by the older sisters, had been uninhabited for several months when it was hit. But soon after the coup d'état in which the Burmese military ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Sisters of Reparation hosted 150 women, children and elderly people seeking shelter from the conflict for several months. After an initial evacuation in June, following an attack on the Church of Our Lady of Peace, adjacent to the sisters' accommodation, the sisters and refugees returned to Doungankha. But by then, in the height of summer, the contagions had begun to grow.
The sisters were split up and taken by ambulance to Loikaw by back roads and through rice fields to escape the violence of the military, who had been ordered to shoot at the ambulances as well. Five nuns died from the coronavirus. Loikaw, capital of Kayah State and home to nearly 60,000 people, was heavily bombed at the end of December and is now reduced to a ghost town. There are more than 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Myanmar, according to the UN refugee agency.
We offer the anonymous testimony of one of the Sisters of Reparation, who is still forced to move from village to village to escape the bombings of the military. In recent months they have passed through 12 convents.
"In the convent of Kunta (Kayah State), along with the sisters, there were also elderly people and orphaned children, a total of 18 people. It was very dangerous to leave the house: people fled, returned to their homes and then fled again. We lived among the bullets and couldn't sleep at night; we were terrified.
28 September was a nightmare day, one I will never forget. At 10 am I heard the first shots right around our house. There were three families with us: an infirm grandmother, two small children and a pregnant woman.
When we heard the bullets hitting the roof and the glass breaking, we realised we could no longer escape. We hid in a room, even under the bed. The shooting lasted all day and intensified in the afternoon. The elderly were very scared, the children were crying.
We didn't know what to do: we cried and prayed to drown out the sound of gunfire. One little girl asked me through her tears: "Sister, perhaps will we die here tonight?" I embraced her, assuring her that no one would die because the Lord would protect us and Our Lady was watching over us. It was a terrible night and we did nothing but entrust ourselves to the Lord.
The next day the shooting had stopped and we went out to see the damage: bullet holes, broken glass, part of our house hit by the bombing. We thanked the Lord because there was no one there. But at that very moment we heard shots again and the superior told us: 'Sisters, we can't stay here any longer, let's go'. She informed the bishop that we were leaving the house and asked for help to evacuate the elderly and the children.
The elderly left in a car with the superior, while we sisters, with the frightened children and their mothers, set off to find a safer place. When we finally arrived at a parish, we found a situation similar to the one we had just left: old people who could not escape, children crying, the smoke from the bombs. All this caused me immense pain.
The fighting continued for three days; there were many dead and wounded and dozens of houses destroyed. The people who survived live with deep traumas.
A week later we tried to return to our village: the houses had been burnt down along with the people, the pets starved to death. Some families had lost everything.
This new situation forced people to flee to the mountains, where they became ill because of the cold and the lack of food, and where they had no possibility of treatment.
At the end of October, the village chief advised everyone to flee again because the situation was not safe. We went to Loikaw, to the minor seminary. It seemed quiet and we stayed there until the military started bombing the refugee camps at the end of December. At this point, there was no safe place to hide. We found ourselves fleeing once again along with the people and to this day the young and old sisters of my community have not returned to their convent."
Faced with this situation, the PIME Foundation has set up the S145 Emergenza Myanmar Fund (in Italian) to help initiatives by local churches, many founded by PIME missionaries before the expulsion of foreign missionaries in 1966. The goal of the campaign is to provide immediate help to thousands of people through the relief network the dioceses of Taungoo and Taunggyi are putting in place.
Many local religious groups have responded to the emergency and in doing so are showing the most beautiful face of Myanmar, that of a people who, despite the suffering that has marked its history, choose the path of solidarity. Aid will be sent to them, starting with basic needs: shelter, food, and a school for children deprived of an education for the past two years because of the pandemic and the war.
Donations can be made out to S145–Emergenza Myanmar:
- directly online at this link (in Italian) choosing S145–Emergenza Myanmar among the projects (progetti);
- by bank transfer payable to Fondazione Pime Onlus IBAN: IT 11 W 05216 01630 000000005733 (it is recommended that a copy of the transfer be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating name, address, place and date of birth, plus fiscal code if in Italy or equivalent social insurance number in other countries)
- to the postal current account n. 39208202 made out to Fondazione Pime Onlus via Monte Rosa, 81 20149 Milan
- in cash or check by going in person to the Centro PIME in Milan, via Monte Rosa 81 – business hours Monday to Friday: from 9 am to 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm).