Archbishop of Mandalay: 'Christmas in the forest with Burmese who fled to survive'.
Archbishop Marco Tin Win tells AsiaNews about the drama of the country that has not known peace since the February 1 coup: "Last year there was Covid-19, now we are suffering from a man-made disaster. The military is looking everywhere for those who fight against them, even priests and nuns forced to flee. To the Burmese who are far from home, like Mary and Joseph, I want to say: God is with you".
Mandalay (AsiaNews) - For the second year in a row it will be a different Christmas in Myanmar. No lights, no carols and no celebrations. "Until 2019 we invited other religious leaders to celebrate with us. Then in 2020 came the Covid-19 pandemic disaster. This year is even worse, because we are suffering from a man-made disaster for which there is no cure."
This is how the Archbishop of Mandalay, Marco Tin Win, describes the situation in Myanmar. "I am 62 years old and I have never experienced anything so tragic in my life".
Fighting has continued throughout Myanmar since the military junta seized control of the country on 1 February this year, ousting the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
"We had hoped to celebrate Christmas like we used to, with people. But we spend these days with sadness as we prepare to welcome Jesus by praying for our people," the prelate tells AsiaNews. The archdiocese of Mandalay, although located in the centre of the country, has also experienced an exodus of inhabitants.
"The condition of the Burmese people is similar to that of Mary and Joseph during the first Christmas: far from home, in the jungle, forests and caves of the country, they run for their lives," Archbishop Tin Win explains, deeply emotional.
"But even in the cities, people are suffering because there is fighting every day. People here are fighting for their lives. We will only celebrate the Eucharist to be close to the people, but no grand celebrations, there are too many people who suffer". Most Burmese have fled to Thailand and Myanmar: in Mandalay, about 50,000 of the 300,000 internally displaced people have left their homes to seek refuge elsewhere.
"Christmas is an opportunity to share God's love through us. This year we are not decorating the churches with lights. I have asked the faithful to save money for decorations and make donations if they can." The Church is not involved in the fighting but sends aid, including to other religious communities.
The Christians of the archdiocese, who numbered just over 21,000 before the war, used to attend regular interreligious meetings. "We no longer hold these meetings, but we help each other among religious communities. If we have something to share - food, clothes or medicine - we give it to Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist leaders to redistribute among their faithful".
The situation is desperate: even in Myanmar it is winter and people need clothes and supplies: "Harvest time was missed because people have not been able to return to their villages. The people who come to Mass are afraid because every day the military come in looking for those who are fighting against them. Even priests and nuns are sometimes forced to flee".
Then, Covid-19 also continues to devastate the country. "In April, May and June, we couldn't even bury the bodies because there were so many of them. The health situation seems to have improved, but fear remains high. "And there is no hope for the future, unless people's hearts change and they understand the value of peace and human life. There is no other cure for this man-made disaster," the cardinal repeats.
"I think of Psalm 136: how can we sing for joy at the coming of the Lord? We can afford to do so with a few charitable activities and still be close to the people through prayer. I want to say to the Burmese people that they are not alone in the forests and caves, we are with you and God is with you," Tin Win continues.
"I would like to send this message in a simple way this year instead of announcing it with the usual big celebrations: God has sent us a Saviour, have hope." Of course, the situation is tragic, but "I still hope we will be able to celebrate together next year", the archbishop concludes.