Myanmar’s Catholic bishops have renewed pleas for dialogue in the midst of ongoing unrest. They also reflected on the promise that November elections had inspired, before a military coup d’état earlier this month disrupted national life and sent the country spiralling into crisis.
“Despite the onslaught of the global pandemic,” the bishops said in a statement on Sunday, “the nation held an election. The world admires our capacity for managing our differences,” they said. “Today,” the bishops went on to say, “the world weeps with us, shattered by the fragmentation of this nation once again. Our youth deserve better.”
“We, Catholic bishops, send this appeal specially to those in power, pleading restraint in the streets and a return to dialogue,” they wrote.
The situation in the country has been extremely unstable since the military seized power on February first, declaring the November elections fraudulent and taking civilian leaders into custody.
Reports have reached the Catholic Herald – as yet unconfirmed — of heavy-handedness on the part of the military, including nocturnal intrusions into private homes and the arrest of local officials and medical workers along with activists suspected of supporting civil disobedience.
One report – as yet unconfirmed – mentions unspecified “psychological warfare” on the part of the military, and convicts to whom pardons have been granted, some of whom have allegedly been engaged in destruction of property and other intimidation tactics.
The bishops’ statement was signed by Cardinal Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon and Bishop John Saw Young, the executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, which represents the pastoral leadership of a tiny Catholic minority in the country – some 750 thousand faithful in a population of just over 54 million.
The statement from the bishops came on the same day as the funeral of the coup’s first confirmed casualty: a woman shot in the head during a protest in the nation’s capital on February 9th.
It addressed the growing violence in the country, speaking of the “heart-rending scenes of youth dying in the streets” and saying that such violence wounds “the conscience of a nation”.
“Let not its sacred ground be soaked in fraternal blood,” the bishops said. “The sadness of parents burying their children has to stop,” they insisted. “Mothers’ tears are never a blessing to any nation.”