· Vatican City ·

An 11-year-old among Myanmar’s internally displaced

The Rosary
of Michael Phe Ha ling

cq5dam.thumbnail.cropped.500.281.jpeg
25 June 2021

Tired and weary, he grasped that “sweet chain to God”. Among the thousands of internally displaced who fled into the jungle to escape the violence of the Burmese army, Michael Phe Ha ling, an 11-year-old Catholic boy, in the adversity invoked our heavenly mother without hesitation, to ask for nourishment for his exhausted body and peace for his homeland. He befriended Christ Jesus at the Holy Spirit parish in Mindat, a town in Chin State, on the border with India. With that “sweet chain” — as Blessed Bartolo Longo called it — always around his neck, he began praying the Rosary with all his might as his terrified family ran into the forest in a frenzied rush. Among the tears and the suffering faces, praying the Rosary is both refuge and hope for the internally displaced people of Chin who live in the Diocese of Hakha. The Catholic population, numbering some 30,000 faithful, is sharing with the rest of the people the tragic situation of widespread violence which, after the 1 February coup, concerns all of Myanmar.

Maung Ki, a Catholic catechist in Mindat, has an agonizing story: “The Burmese army”, he recounted to L’Osservatore Romano, “pursues and attacks the thousands of innocent civilians who poured out of Mindat into the thicket. At least 2,000 people have been displaced, including women, elderly, children and sick people. But the soldiers, on the hunt for rebels, are merciless”.

In Chin State the armed resistance of the popular defense forces, strengthened by prior experience with the ethnic militia, as happens in other states of the Burmese Union, makes life difficult for the government army. Thus the troops are intensifying attacks, indiscriminately striking civilians and trying to follow combatants back to their camps in the jungle.

The army has cut off all communications and stopped humanitarian aid for the displaced who “have an urgent need for food, medicine, clothing, water and canvas to shield them from the rain, while the monsoons are approaching”, says Timothy Khui Shing, a Catholic priest in Mindat. “The army launches rockets toward camps set up in the jungle where unarmed and peace-loving people can be found. Many are injured but the soldiers do not allow them to be transported to hospitals to save human lives”, he notes.

In the territory of Chin, a rural and mountainous State in the northwest of Myanmar, among the least developed in the country, with a population of some 500 thousand inhabitants, the Church makes her resources available to help refugees. Hrang Tin Thang, a parish priest in the town of Surkhua, has brought the elderly, disabled people, women and children of the town into his parish church where, thanks to the help of the Sisters of the Little Way, a local religious congregation, he offers welcome and necessary support. “It is a work of charity that we carry out without religious discrimination, offered to the weakest and most defenseless”, he explains. Paul Thla Kio, another priest in Hakha, adds: “We continue, as possible, the work of mercy, but here a humanitarian emergency is underway that requires the contribution of large international organizations”. Desperate, many citizens begin to cross the border, seeking refuge in India. They do not really know what awaits them there. They take a sack, a few precious objects and Rosary beads.

Paolo Affatato