By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
YANGON, MYANMAR (Worthy News) – Christians in Myanmar gathered for worship Sunday after troops raided churches and news that the junta did not include political prisoners to mark the Buddhist new year.
Christians told Worthy News that recent Easter season celebrations had been marred by soldiers entering churches.
On April 10, junta troops reportedly raided the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the village of Sharge as members were preparing food for their Palm Sunday celebrations.
Some 13 people, including the assistant parish priest, were detained but released several after interrogation, according to Christians familiar with the case. “However, at last report, the young priest remains in custody. Church officials have since been negotiating with the military for his release,” said advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) which supports the believers.
Earlier, on April 8, some 40 soldiers stormed the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Mandalay and detained the congregation for three hours during a Lenten prayer service, Christians said.
ARCHBISHOP IN CUSTODY
Archbishop Marco Win Tin and about 20 priests and other church officials were detained as soldiers searched the premises for weapons, gold, and money, VOMC confirmed.
Troops claimed these “items were used to aid rebels who opposed the military junta. Despite denials from church members, the soldiers continued to search throughout the building but found nothing,” VOMC told Worthy News.
“Nevertheless, 30 troops remained inside the cathedral overnight. Thankfully, no one was injured during the raid, but those detained were understandably very shaken by the ordeal,” the well-informed group added.
News of the raids came as Christians were taking in reports that authorities “pardoned” 1,619 prisoners, including 42 foreigners, but that no political prisoners were among them.
The detainees will be released to mark the new Buddhist year, the main religion in Myanmar,
an annual tradition that last year saw 23,000 prisoners freed.
Yet, a prisoner released from Yangon’s Insein prison told reporters that “political cases and protesters were not among those released,” with authorities only freeing criminals.
CHRISTIANS FACING PRESSURE
Christians are believed to be among those held, underscoring broader concerns about Myanmar’s Christian minority. “The Buddhist-majority country has 4.4 million Christians, which is just 8 percent of the country’s population,” said Christian advocacy group
It ranked the Asian nation 12th on its annual World Watch List of 50 nations, where it claims it is most challenging to be a Christian. “The persecution of Christians in Myanmar has worsened in the wake of the military coup in February 2021. The army has attacked Christian villages and churches while leaving Buddhist monasteries untouched, and killed Christian aid workers and pastors,” Open Doors noted.
“The coup has exacerbated the country’s ongoing civil war, which was already centralized in Christian-majority states such as Kachin and Shan. More Christians than ever have been forced to live in internally displaced people camps where they are often deprived of food and healthcare,” Open Doors added.
Between 1962 and 2011, when the staunchly Buddhist military-led Myanmar, Christians were “systematically persecuted,” the watchdog stressed. “The coup has not only brought back awful memories for Christians, but it also prompted fears that they will be repeated.”
Additionally, Christian converts continue to experience persecution from their Buddhist, Muslim or tribal families and communities for leaving their former faith. “Communities who aim to stay ‘Buddhist only’ make Christian families’ lives impossible by not allowing them to use neighborhood water resources,” Open Doors noted.
“Non-traditional church groups experience opposition, especially those located in rural areas known for proselytizing.”
Amid the ongoing crackdown, Christian men in the army find it very difficult to practice their faith, Worthy News learned. The military is known to impose “forced labor on believers” to prevent them from attending Sunday services and accessing the Christian community, Open Doors said. “Following the military coup, this control is likely to intensify. Christian men are also often targeted for recruitment into militias.”
As attacks intensified, Christians urged prayers, including for churches raided by troops and for a new government that they say will respect the freedoms persecuted believers long for.
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