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Churches provide refuge to thousands displaced in Burma as rebels increase attacks

by Ros Mayfield

Displaced civilians in Burma are seeking urgent shelter in churches, in the face of a fresh offensive by Burmese rebels. 

A civil war, between armed insurgent groups and the ruling military junta, has led to widespread violence over nearly three years, including the destruction of numerous places of worship and the displacement of entire villages.

In January, a predominantly Catholic village was torched by the military, destroying houses as well as a church that was over 100 years old.

Following a recent spate of renewed attacks, many people who’ve found themselves caught up in the fighting, are fleeing to churches, in search of a safe place to stay.

According to the charity, Aid to the Church in Need, which works with persecuted Christians around the world, local churches are opening their doors, but the safety of those they take in is not guaranteed, even inside the sanctuary.

John Newton, from the charity, tells Premier local churches have been offering help since the start of the fighting: “Since February 2021, when the latest coup occurred, the church has opened its doors to anyone seeking sanctuary.”

Newton says latest figures from the UN say 2 million people have been displaced by the fighting.  He says they’re hearing stories of the church demonstrating “acts of mercy, acts of kindness… time after time, in parish after parish,” and of Christians “being the Good Samaritan, helping those in need”.

Regina Lynch, International Executive President of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), said they have heard of strong attacks in several dioceses, with worrying reports of “distressing incidents within sacred compounds”.  The charity says some churches have become “zones of conflict” and religious institutions have been "forcibly evacuated”.

Some damage to church properties has been reported, and the charity's local partners have issued a plea for prayers.

Ms Lynch said that as the world grapples with more recent conflicts such as the war in Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas, Christians in Burma fear the world has forgotten their plight: “Among the many conflicts in the world right now, the people in [Burma] Myanmar feel left alone in the midst of their suffering... our solidarity is a beacon of light in the darkness they are facing.”

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