Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s highest Catholic Church official, expressed “immense sorrow and pain” over the attack on churches in the country this week that resulted in the death of civilians.
“We record our anguish at the attack on innocent civilians who sought refuge in Sacred Heart Church,” said the cardinal, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
“This needs to stop,” said Cardinal Bo in a statement sent to LiCAS.news late on Tuesday, May 25. “We plead with you all, related organizations, kindly do not escalate the war,” added the prelate.
“Our people are poor, COVID-19 robbed them of their livelihood, starvation stalks millions, the threat of another round of COVID-19 is real. Conflict is a cruel anomaly at this moment,” said the cardinal.
Reports reaching LiCAS.news early on Monday said Burmese army soldiers attacked the village of Kayanthayar near Loikaw in Eastern Myanmar killing four people and wounding several others on May 23.
Government troops attacked the village, including the Catholic church, believing that civilian resistance fighters were hiding inside.
The Sacred Heart Church in Phekon was also reported damaged by the mortar shelling.
“The violent acts, including continuous shelling, using heavy weaponry on a frightened group of largely women and children, resulted in tragic death of four people and wounding more than eight,” said Cardinal Bo in his statement.
He said the church suffered extensive damage, “bearing witness to the intensity of the attack on a place of worship.”
“The midnight attack made the hapless people to flee to the jungle,” he said, adding that the fate of the villagers was “still not known to the outside world.”
“Food, medicine and hygiene are urgent needs but there is no way of reaching them. There are many children and old people among them, forced to starve and without any medical aid,” said the cardinal.
“This is a great humanitarian tragedy,” he added.
Cardinal Bo stressed that “places of worship as a cultural property of a community is covered by international protocols,” adding that these are protected during conflict through international conventions.
“Apart from all protocols, let us remember the blood that is spilled is not some enemy’s blood; those who died and those who were wounded are the citizens of this country,” said Cardinal Bo.
“They were not armed; they were inside the church to protect their families,” he said.
“Every heart in this country weeps for the death of the innocent people. Now, hundreds die; thousands become refugees and displaced,” added the cardinal.
He said more than 20,000 people have already been displaced in the recent conflict in Loikaw alone.
“We make this urgent appeal as a group of faith leaders — not as politicians. We are praying for peace in this great land and hoping all of us can live as brothers and sisters in this great nation,” Cardinal Bo said.