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Burma: soldiers shoot at worshippers during Mass, burn churches

Catholic World News - October 21, 2011

Military forces in Myanmar (Burma) disrupted Mass in Namsan-yang, a village of Kachin State on October 16, shooting at worshippers, beating one, and detaining five for forced labor. After releasing Father Sara Doi Awng, the soldiers burned the parish and a Baptist church.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Burmese army has been engaged in a campaign of “rape, forced labor, and killing civilians on a widespread and systematic basis” in Kachin, the nation’s northernmost state. Since 1962, the nation has been ruled by authoritarian military regimes, which expelled missionaries and nationalized Catholic schools and hospitals in the 1960s and abolished constitutional religious freedom protections in the late 1980s. Myanmar has gained a reputation for brutality: in 2005, the United Nation’s International Labor Organization estimated that 800,000 citizens are subjected to forced labor.

According to the US State Department, this atmosphere of repression is particularly unfavorable to non-Buddhists, for “the Ministry of Religious Affairs includes the powerful Department for the Promotion and Propagation of Sasana (Buddhist teaching).” Buddhist prayer and doctrine are part of the curriculum of all state-run elementary schools. The government pressures students to convert to Buddhism and rarely permits non-Buddhists to rise in the civil service. Monitoring church services and controlling the publication of all religious literature, it forbids the translation of the Bible into indigenous languages and at times has censored the Old Testament, citing its violent language. The construction and even the routine maintenance of churches often depend upon the whim of local administrators.

Only 1.2% of Myanmar’s 53.4 million people are Catholic, according to Vatican statistics; in all, 89% are Buddhist, 4% are Christian, and 4% are Muslim.

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