Persecution, war and poverty: the hard life of Catholics in Myanmar
The community finds strength and inspiration in the teachings of the Church and the recent visit of Pope Francis to the country has given new impetus to the work of evangelisation. Religious persecution follows Kachins in Yangon. Fighting "has destroyed the hopes and dreams of young people in the northern state of Shan”.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – Myanmar Catholics face many challenges on a daily basis, including religious persecution, ethnic conflicts and economic hardships.
In a country where 89.2 per cent of the people are Buddhist, Christians have always been a minority. After huge efforts and many martyrs among the missionaries, Catholics currently number only 675,745, just over 1 per cent of the population.
Yet, the community finds strength and inspiration in the teachings of the Church and Pope Francis’s recent visit has given its members a new impetus to spread the Word.
Margaret Hla Yin knows this all too well. Despite her family’s poverty, she is involved in the charitable works of the Legion of Mary in Yangon.
"I live here with my daughter,” the elderly lady told AsiaNews. “In the past, one salary was enough to live on. But now three or four are needed.
“My daughter works at a hotel reception. Every day I wait for her to come home. Loneliness is a constant part of the life of seniors like myself. However, on weekends I go with volunteers into the city’s slums. Thus, I learn to cope with it.”
Margaret is an ethnic Kachin, from the homonymous state in northern Myanmar, which is currently embroiled in heavy fighting between the government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Most ethnic Kachins are Christian.
Even far away, in Yangon, religious persecution takes place. "Even here, Kachin Catholics are starting to be subjected to religious restrictions.”
“Once, when we celebrated Mass, there were few government limits. But this year, local authorities began requiring us to apply for permission every month. Some Buddhist groups even use loudspeakers day and night to disrupt our meetings."
Myu San, a 26-year-old artist from Bhamo, also left Kachin State and her family to try his luck in Yangon. "I earn a living with the Catholic icons I produce,” he said. “In Myanmar, job opportunities are few and for young people it is hard to get a decent salary.”
"The country's economy is in crisis due to the trade war and many businesses are closing down. Despite this, I find inspiration in my work and a reason to go forward."
Fighting "has destroyed the hopes and dreams of young people in the northern state of Shan,” said Hkawn Mai, 30, from Muse, a city on the border between Myanmar and China.
"The civil war between local rebels and the military makes daily life more difficult,” he explained.
“My parish houses hundreds of refugees. For more than five years, Caritas Myanmar and the Christian community have been offering support and room to displaced people.
“Peace is crucial for the development of the country. Even if it seems so far away, we continue to hope and pray for it.”