“Peace is possible; peace is the only way,” writes Burmese Cardinal Charles Bo, in an open letter following an attack on a Catholic Church in Myanmar on Sunday night.
The Archbishop of Yangon was writing in his capacity as co-president of Religions for Peace International, an interfaith group dedicated “to ensuring that all people enjoy peace, harmony, and prosperity.”
More than 300 people from at least 60 families had fled to the Sacred Heart Church in Loikaw due to ongoing fighting between government forces and local rebel groups opposed to the military coup that took place in February.
“It is with immense sorrow and pain, we record our anguish at the attack on innocent civilians, who sought refuge in Sacred Heart Church,” the Cardinal says. He notes that the midnight attack, including continuous shelling, left at least four people dead and eight others wounded, and severely damaged the Church.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Loikaw, Father Soe Naing, said that the rest of the people sheltering in the church at the time of the attack had fled by the time church officials arrived to survey the damage on the morning of 24 May. “Their fate is still not known to the outside world,” writes Cardinal Bo. “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.
“This is a great humanitarian tragedy.”
In his letter Cardinal Bo emphasises that churches “as a cultural property of a community,” along with hospitals and schools, are protected during conflicts by international agreements.
But, he adds, “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. They were not armed; they were inside the church to protect their families. Every heart in this country weeps for the death of the innocent people. Now, hundreds die; thousands become refugees and displaced. More than 20,000 have been displaced in the recent conflict in Loikaw.”
Cardinal Bo concludes his letter with an urgent appeal for peace: “This needs to stop. We plead with you all, related organisations, kindly do not escalate the war.” Pointing to the effects of the ongoing pandemic, including unemployment and starvation; and to the possibility of another wave of Covid-19, he pleads, “Conflict is a cruel anomaly at this moment. Peace is possible; peace is the only way.”
He insists, “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.”