Pope Francis on Sunday, January 22, expressed his closeness to the people of Myanmar, who have suffered “severe trials” since the military coup began in 2021.
“My thoughts, with pain, go in particular to Myanmar, where the church of Our Lady of the Assumption in the village of Chan Thar, one of the oldest and most important places of worship in the country, was set on fire and destroyed,” said the pope during the Angelus prayer in the Vatican.
The pope asked the crowd to pray a “Hail Mary” together to Our Lady of Myanmar asking that the conflict will end soon and that “a new time of forgiveness, love, and peace will begin.”
Junta soldiers and pro-military Pyu Saw Htee militia torched the 129-year-old Catholic church in Myanmar’s Sagaing region on January 15.
The junta has carried out four arson attacks on Chan Thar village since last May and fewer than 20 of the village’s near-600 houses remain after the attack, according to a local who was helping to clear up debris at the church.
“They started to torch the furniture and pillars inside the building first. Only the outside brick structure remains. The roof and bells were destroyed,” said the local, who did not wish to be named for safety reasons.
“There was a building for the sisters as it was a Christian church. That building was also completely destroyed.”
Troops burned down 24 houses in the first raid last May, he said. Another 131 were torched in June and 158 homes were destroyed in December.
Residents told RFA nearly 3,000 people lost their homes in the arson attacks.
One local Christian said the junta should not allow its troops to camp in religious buildings or destroy them.
“These are places where religion is supreme. It is only one year before the church turns 130 years old. This should not happen to the buildings of priests and nuns. They should always live in these buildings,” the local said.
Myint Htwe, former regional lawmaker for the National League for Democracy, which led the government ousted in the February 2021 coup, told RFA destroying religious buildings is a war crime.
“I accept fighting to the death in battle as it is war. We also understand it is the nature of the military to cut off main supply routes. But destroying religious buildings has no place in the civilized and humane armies of various countries around the world,” he said.
Last November three locals were killed when troops attacked Khin-U township’s Mon Hla village and set fire to the houses.
After the attack Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, told RFA Burmese he was deeply saddened by the raid on his home village.
The junta stepped up its scorched-earth operations in Ye-U township at the start of December, destroying 2,131 houses in 21 villages, according to locals.
Many of the residents of Khin-U township are descendants of Portuguese Christians known as the Bayingyi, who live alongside local Buddhists. Bayingyi have been living there since the beginning of the 17th century. – with a report from Radio Free Asia