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Burma: soldiers shoot at worshippers in church; pastor tortured

Catholic World News - November 09, 2011

Three weeks after military forces in Myanmar (Burma) disrupted Mass in a Kachin State village, shooting at worshippers and burning down the church, soldiers have attacked a Protestant church in the region, according to local sources. The army detained 50 worshippers for forced labor, and the pastor was tortured.

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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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Nov. 09, 2011 7:40 PM ET USA

    I would be grateful if someone would explain to me just how the people living in Burma/Myanmar are better off for their nation having achieved political independence from the British.

  • Posted by: Steve214 - Nov. 09, 2011 7:17 PM ET USA

    Most of the Catholics are of Indian decent. The Indians were brought there by the British to help rule when they were in charge--and that has not been forgotten. Additionally, Burmese view lighter skin as more beautiful--and the Indians there are generally not light. (This information was gathered during a week in Burma, and confirmed by later discussions with a Burmese woman in the US.) If you can somehow get beyond all of that, it is a delightful country!

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