ASIA/MYANMAR - Catholic parishes welcome and provide education to displaced children: "Help with prudence, charity and patience, in silence", says the Bishop of Mawlamyine

Tuesday, 12 September 2023 human rights   education   school   humanitarian aid   childhood   displaced persons  

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Mawlamyine (Agenzia Fides) - In the parish of Saint Mary of the Assumption in Mawlamyine, southern Myanmar, more than 700 children receive humanitarian assistance and education daily. In other of the 14 parishes of the diocese of Mawlamyine, hundreds of children are also welcomed for the same service. "These are the children of families displaced within the country, several thousand in our diocese", explains to Fides Msgr Maurice Nyunt Wai, bishop of Mawlamyine. "Many families, Catholic and non-Catholic - he explains - were caught in the middle of the exchanges of fire between the regular army and the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), composed mainly of young people opposed to the military dictatorship. This is why they have taken refuge in the forests, where they survive with enormous difficulties. The situation is critical. Daily subsistence is a challenge. Social services are at a standstill. Children and young people do not go to school. This is why they come to our parishes for help. With priests, catechists and volunteers, the parishes organize a school service and basic humanitarian assistance". In the diocese, which has around 15 thousand Catholics out of around 2.7 million inhabitants, "the priests, religious and faithful - continues the Bishop - must be very patient and prudent, because the words spoken during liturgies or gestures of humanitarian aid can be considered by the army as support for the PDF militias and thus lead to reprisals against ecclesiastical personnel or against our churches and our structures. We must continue to act in charity, giving comfort and hope, but quietly, in silence and in hiding. Let us entrust this time of trial to the Lord, trying to do our best to relieve people's pain and discomfort: it is the civilian population who suffers the harsh consequences of the civil conflict, in particular because the military does not allow humanitarian organizations to help the civilian population, considering this aid as support for the militias." The bishop notes: "At this moment, thanks to God, we continue to celebrate the Sunday liturgy and the sacraments in our churches, without particular problems. But some parishes are empty and closed because the faithful, displaced within the country, have taken refuge in the forests or due to a lack of minimum safety conditions: there even religious activities are suspended. I try to spiritually and materially support priests, religious and catechists who are closest to the people, who know the families and do everything they can to support them. We are living in a time of suffering, the social fabric of our communities is frayed. People are tired, sad and disoriented, because of the violence which does not cease. But, in the ordeal, the faithful give a strong testimony of faith, they continue to come to churches and to pray intensely. Our refuge, our rock is the Lord. We entrust ourselves to Him and ask for the protection of the Virgin Mary".
As in Mawlamyine, the situation of the displaced people is common to many other dioceses throughout Myanmar. The number of internally displaced people in Myanmar increased by 680,000 in the first half of 2023, according to the independent research group "Institute for Strategy and Policy - Myanmar" (ISP - Myanmar), a non-governmental think tank based in Thailand. The total number of people uprooted from their homes and villages – since the military deposed the democratically elected government in a coup in February 2021 – has exceeded 2.6 million people, notes ISP. While charities and humanitarian organizations attempt to provide aid, the military prohibits the distribution of aid, mainly food and medicine, reducing the civilian population to the brink. As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), restrictions on humanitarian access to Myanmar have increased, particularly in the southeast and the Kachin region, further hampering rapid and effective delivery of aid to affected and displaced communities. After a three-day visit to Myanmar last August, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths called for "increased humanitarian access and funding to help the country's 18 million Burmese citizens in need of aid across Myanmar.” “The successive crises that the country has experienced have left a third of the population in need of humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Griffiths said, calling on the political leaders of the Myanmar and the international community to "do more and better". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/9/2023)