Catholic church set on fire as Burmese army continues assault

Yangon, Burma — Myanmar’s military continues to target churches in predominantly Christian areas of the Buddhist-majority country, ignoring pleas from the Catholic Church and world leaders, UCA News reported.

The latest military attack on Christians in ethnic areas of Myanmar is not the first time the minority has been attacked and targeted. UCA News reported that Christians bore the brunt of the decades-old civil war and were persecuted by the military, which ruled for more than five decades. The latest attacks have accelerated since the February military coup.

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the deserted town of Thantlang, Chin State, Myanmar, was set on fire by the military on November 27, local media reported.

UCA News reported that the Chin Human Rights Organization said the junta torched homes in Thantlang on November 26, with the fires burning for three consecutive days as soldiers continued arson attacks. St. Nicholas was reportedly among dozens of structures to be destroyed by the blaze, according to a rights group.

The latest attack took place within days and at least 49 buildings, including the Thantlang Centenary Baptist Church, were set on fire. More than 300 homes, including four churches, have been destroyed by military fires in the city since September.

In the predominantly Christian states of Kayah and Chin, more than 130,000 civilians have been forced to seek refuge in churches, convents and makeshift camps even as the army targets priests and pastors, shelling and vandalizing churches, UCA News reported.

Chin State is 85% Christian and was the state at the forefront of resistance to the military junta; the army responded with fierce attacks, including airstrikes, heavy artillery and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Hundreds of people were arbitrarily detained and dozens killed. The Chin human rights organization said at least 22 churches were burned or destroyed by the military along with more than 350 civilian homes in the state between August and November.

Church leaders, including Pope Francis, have called on the military not to target religious buildings because places of worship are the cultural property of a community covered by international protocols.

After the army shelled the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Pekhon, Shan State, three times in five months, Bishop Peter Hla pleaded with the army to stop.

“Attacking the cathedral is like attacking the heart of each of the faithful, and all the faithful feel sad because of the attacks,” Bishop Hla said in a letter.

Since the conflict escalated in May, the Diocese of Pekhon has been one of the worst affected areas, along with the Diocese of Loikaw in Kayah State, UCA News reported.

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