ASIA/MYANMAR – Kachin refugees give Pope Francis a wooden crosier: a wish for peace

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Yangon, December 5, 2017

Yangon (Agenzia Fides) – During his apostolic visit to Mynamar Pope Francis will use a handcrafted wooden crosier donated by the Catholic Kachin ethnic minority refugees, who are now in the refugee camp of Winemaw city, Kachin state, with a Christian majority population, in the northern part of Myanmar. This is what Joseph Myat Soe, a lay Catholic in the Kachin region reveals to Fides, explaining that the Kachin faithful are now in the refugee camp of Winemaw due to the civil war between the Burmese army and Kachin armed groups, in one of the many conflicts in the country, composed, at social level, by the bamar majority (Burmese) and 135 different ethnic minorities and different languages.

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As Myat Soe informs, Kachin refugees offer this wooden crosier to the Holy Father “as a wish to restore peace in the state of Kachin, since it will not be possible for them to attend the Mass in Yangon due to their state of poverty”.
The auxiliary Bishop of Yangon, John Saw Han confirms to Fides that “despite the ongoing civil war, and despite the economic problems, about 5,000 Kachin Catholics will be in Yangon to meet and pray with the Holy Father for peace in their region”. The young Kachin, in particular, will do everything because they “consider this an opportunity to see the Pope and pray with him unrepeatable”, notes the Bishop
The civil war between the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) and government troops has been going on since 1965; in 2010, a ceasefire was negotiated, violated in 2015. The war has forced hundreds of thousands of Kachin (among the 7 main ethnic groups in Myanmar) to flee and find shelter in refugee camps.
The local Catholic Church is giving them support: in the diocese of Myitkyina there are more than 8,000 displaced people who cannot return to their villages due to the violence. Caritas assists them, also tries to organize for them the opportunity to cultivate land, so they themselves can contribute to their livelihood.
The Burmese Bishops last year denounced that “more than 150,000 people are languishing in refugee camps, waiting for international aid”, while their lands are scattered with ordnance and human trafficking rages. Drugs are a death sentence for the young kachin and natural resources such as jade mines are plundered. This is the main cause of the conflict”, they observed.
There were hopes of peace in the area after the conference on reconciliation with ethnic minorities, organized by the Burmese government in September 2016, but that conference did not have a real impact on the Kachin’s reality, while the military presence in the state remains invasive
There are four Catholic Bishops of the Kachin region, known as the “land of jewels” due to its subsoil which is rich in gold and jade. There are two Catholic dioceses of the state (Myitkyina and Banmaw), while there are about 70 priests who assist 70,000 Catholic faithful.
The Holy Father arrives in Yangon, former capital of Myanmar on November 27, and will fly to Nay Pyi Taw, the administrative capital of Myanmar, where on the 28th will meet with political authorities and civil society. (JZH-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 27/11/2017)

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