ASIA/MYANMAR - Bishop of Loikaw: "There is light in the faces of the suffering people, but a dawn of new hope for the nation is urgently needed"

Monday, 15 April 2024 refugees   displaced persons   civil war  

Loikaw (Agenzia Fides) - "I am in the parish of Soudu, a village in the diocese of Loikaw. It is one of the parishes where pastoral life is still possible. Our cathedral in Loikaw is still occupied by the Burmese army. More More than half of the churches in the diocese are closed and empty because the faithful have fled. We live in a state of displacement and distress, but I thank the Lord because with this experience he has given me the opportunity to be closer to my people to be closer to the people who so much need comfort and solidarity," says the Bishop of Loikaw Celso Ba Shwe, who also lives as a refugee and was forced, since November 2023, to leave his cathedral and the adjacent pastoral center, occupied by the Burmese army, which has turned the complex into a military base. The Bishop spent first Christmas, then Lent and now Easter away from his church, dedicating himself to visiting refugees and celebrating religious holidays with them. Today, three years after the coup, he says bitterly: "We can no longer continue with an internal war. The nation and the entire population will be weakened and destroyed in the end. We must now find a way out and find ways of negotiation, dialogue and reconciliation. We are very concerned about the social and political situation, the social fabric is torn, people are confused and disoriented everywhere, violence is raging, the city of Loikaw is only occupied by the fighting forces, that is, soldiers and opposition militias. We are witnessing a slow death of our beautiful country every day. We are praying to God that he will open a path to peace for us, because it cannot continue like this. But despite the tragedy, the bishop also finds words of hope: "Christ has risen for us too, I see light in the faces of the suffering people and that comforts me. Let us not lose hope, because it is God who gives it to us. People suffer, resist, hope. But we need a dawn of new hope. We thank Pope Francis, who continually reminds the world of our suffering and prays for us. In the civil war, after the success of "Operation 1027" (see Fides, 23/11/2023), the rebels are trying to strategically conquer border areas in order to prevent supplies to the junta, which instead controls the central part of the country and the larger cities. In recent days, the opposition forces have captured another important city, dealing a serious blow to the government army: the city of Myawaddy in the southeast, on the border with Thailand, where there was a military base that was abandoned by the routed regular army. The city of Myawaddy, a key border crossing and hub for trade and supplies from Thailand to Myanmar, fell after an offensive by the Karen National Liberation Army, one of the ethnic militias allied with the Burmese opposition. Another chapter about which representatives of the Catholic Church also express great concern is the economic situation in Myanmar, which has deteriorated, with rising prices and a shortage of basic supplies, leading to widespread hardship and malnutrition. Against this backdrop, the UN Emergency Plan for Myanmar for 2024 requires US$1 billion in funding (a sum that still needs to be raised by donors) to reach more than 5 million people in need on Burmese territory. According to the UN, there are over 2.6 million internally displaced people and the number continues to rise. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 15/4/2024)