Clashes in Shan State: St. Francis Xavier church in Mung Koe destroyed
The parish hit by government army bombings, fighting the Kachin and Shan ethnic militias in the north-east of the country. Bishop: "Only the bell tower left standing. Priests, nuns and the faithful have fled to China. "
Naypiydaw (AsiaNews) - On December 3 last a government army air strike destroyed the St. Francis Xavier church in Mung Koe, Shan State (northeastern Myanmar). Msgr. Philip Za Hawng, bishop of the Diocese of Lashio, where the parish is located, wrote a message that says: "The whole church was destroyed, with the exception of the bell tower. The smoke which rose was visible from far away until noon. That church was built of reinforced concrete and was consecrated in 2006 ".
St. Francis Xavier church is located in a hotbed territory home to clashes between the army (Tatmadaw) and ethical rebel militias in Kachin and Shan states, bordering with China. These are two of the 135 ethnic groups of which Myanmar is composed, who have always struggled to coexist peacefully with the central government and its majority Burmese constituent. In June 2011 after 17 years of relative calm, the war between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin flared up once again and has caused dozens of civilian deaths and at least 120 thousand displaced persons, living in 167 refugee camps.
For several weeks the advance of the Tatmadaw has intensified in the north-eastern territories. The Naypyidaw troops are using air and land attacks to target the positions of ethnic militias, causing an unknown number of dead and arresting civilians indiscriminately. The Archbishop of Yangon, Card. Charles Bo, has repeatedly appealed to the whole country for peace talks.
The destruction of the Diocese of Lashio parish, writes Msgr. Za Hawng forced "the priests and nuns, along with parishioners, to find refuge across the Chinese border. The residents of the city have also fled ". The Chinese government has set up some tents to accommodate the refugees coming from Myanmar (about 3 thousand).
The priests and nuns, continues the bishop, "come back every so often to town to feed cattle, in moments of respite in the fighting. The parish structures are very close to the Chinese border. " The place, the prelate explained, is being caught up in the fighting because "shortly after the construction of the church a government army command center was built on the opposite side of the road." The message of Msgr. Za Hawng ends with an appeal: “To all those who read these lines, please pray for peace in Myanmar".
The Diocese of Lashio was born from the work of Italian missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).