It will be a Christmas without celebrations, made only of silence, prayer, and solidarity with the poor, the sick, the destitute. Catholics in Myanmar will thus live the feast of the Incarnation of God, while their nation is devastated by guerrilla warfare, violence, murders, suffering, and while the internally displaced continue to flee into the woods, due to the raging civil conflict.
As reported by the pastoral letters and Christmas messages – sent to Fides – addressed by various Bishops to the faithful of their respective dioceses (including those of Yangon, Mandalay, Pathein, and Pyay), Christmas 2021 will be celebrated in the “spirit of closeness to people who suffer”, taking inspiration from the biblical phrase ” rejoice with those who are happy and weep with those who are crying “(Rom 12:15), as St Paul says in the Letter to the Romans. “Since many people in Myanmar today t cry bitter tears, we will also be in solidarity with them”, says Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho, in a pastoral Letter. The Bishop leads the people of God in the Catholic diocese of Pyay, which includes the state of Rakhine, where the Rohingya ethnic minority lives in protected and inaccessible areas. The Catholic community of the state – like that of other Burmese states where Christians are a majority or constitute significant minorities – will live this Christmas essentially through the solemn Eucharist and midnight Mass, thus celebrating the presence of Emmanuel, the “God with us”.
All other social events, street parties, processions…and all purchases of materials that are not strictly necessary – informs the letter sent to all the parishes by Bishop Pyone Cho – are strongly discouraged. Priests, nuns, religious and laypeople will use the few funds and minimal resources available, allocating them to initiatives of sharing, giving, assistance and comfort “for people who have fled their homes, have found shelter in the forests and are suffering, due to the military persecution in Myanmar”.
In states where the Burmese Christian faithful are a majority, such as the Chin state, in the west of the country and the Kayah state in the east, thousands of people will spend Christmas in the forests or in camps set up with makeshift shelters after fleeing their homes because of the military campaign conducted by the army, which razed villages to the ground to draw out the “People Defense Force”, born from civilians in opposition to the military junta after the coup on February 1. Soldiers have also targeted civilians, and sometimes churches, accused of supporting or hiding the rebels. Thousands of people, including priests, nuns, and laypeople, had to abandon churches and flee to safer areas. Several parishes in the diocese of Loikaw, in the state of Kayah, have been abandoned due to the intensification of the fighting in the last six months, local sources of Fides inform. The four dioceses of Hakha, Kalay, Loikaw, and Pekhon have been severely affected and the baptized live in immense suffering, in completely precarious conditions, as internally displaced persons. All the Churches urge the faithful to carry out charity activities at Christmas time, while national (such as Caritas) or international humanitarian organizations are not allowed to bring aid, due to severe military restrictions. Human rights groups accuse the military of committing “crimes against humanity” because they refuse to allow humanitarian assistance to be brought to internally displaced persons (200,000 in Kachin, Kayah, Chin, Karen, and Shan states), especially the elderly, women, and children in a state of extreme poverty and vulnerability.