Loikaw’s new bishop Celso Ba Shwe: half of the diocese ‘evacuated’ but ‘we can move forward’
Appointed recently by Pope Francis, the prelate spoke to AsiaNews about the situation of the local Church, founded by the PIME fathers, “typical of this reality”, i.e. the civil war. Many priests and nuns are among the internally displaced who live in tents in or near the forest. The diocese was without a bishop for about two years.
Loikaw (AsiaNews) – The Holy Father appointed Fr Celso Ba Shwe as the new bishop of Loikaw, capital of Kayah State, in eastern Myanmar, one of the places most affected by the country’s ongoing civil conflict, but also one of the cities where the Christian community is most deeply rooted. The local diocese had been without its own pastor since the death of Bishop Stephen Tjephe two years ago.
"I am very excited," the new bishop told AsiaNews. "It's a difficult situation, yet God asked me to do something for my people. I am happy, but also subordinate to God’s will; for this reason, I will try to do my best. A great responsibility and a great challenge have been given to me".
After the February 2021 coup, when the military ousted the previous civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and started a brutal crackdown, the Church in Loikaw, founded in 1988 by PIME missionaries, suffered from repeated attacks, which forced tens of thousands of people to flee seeking shelter in other locations or in the forest.
"The situation in the diocese is typical of this reality,” explained Bishop Ba Shwe, speaking about the civil war. “In the diocese there are 40 parishes, but half have been evacuated. Many priests and nuns are also housed in tents in refugee camps or refugees in the forest,” the prelate added.
“For the past two years we didn't have a bishop, I was diocesan administrator. It was very challenging because we expected the crisis [following the coup] to last only a few months; instead, after more than two years, we are still in this situation.
For Bishop Ba Shwe, “It is traumatic to see my people suffer and I am a little tired, but I know that God will help and protect me in this task.”
Born in 1964 in Moblo, a village in the Diocese of Loikaw, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in history at the State University of Yangon before entering the Saint Teresa Minor Seminary in Taunggyi. He completed his studies in philosophy and theology at the Saint Joseph Major Seminary in Pyin Oo Lwin and then in Yangon.
After he was ordained priest in 1994, he held various positions, including parish assistant in Doungankha, diocesan director of voluntary evangelisers and youth, co-procurator for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar in Yangon, pastor in two different parishes, vicar general in Loikaw, and finally diocesan administrator since 2020.
“Many people of good will have helped me in the past two years: parishioners, volunteers, supporters, donors from outside and inside the country. With everyone's support we can move forward and do something good here," he said.