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ICC Note: While the issue of Rohingyas took the center stage of Pope Francis’ recent visit to Myanmar, sadly they are not the only religious group in Myanmar heavily persecuted by the government. Kachin State and northern Shan State, the country’s border regions near China, where many residents are Christian ethnic minorities have long suffered from ongoing conflicts with government forces. Church was damaged by airstrike last year and 2 pastors imprisoned last summer for assisting journalists to report on military abuses. 

11/28/2017 Myanmar (America Magazine) – Pope Francis is completing his historic visit in Myanmar, and much of the global media has focused on whether or not he would speak up for the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority. More than 620,000 of them have been driven out of Myanmar’s Rakhine State into Bangladesh in recent months.

Drawing far less international attention are long-running conflicts that endure in the country’s border regions near China, particularly in Kachin State and northern Shan State, where clashes between government forces and armed ethnic independence movements have continued off and on for decades. Adding to the complexity, in this majority-Buddhist state many members of the various ethnic resistance movements, especially among the Kachin, are Christians.

The finer details of the unscheduled tête-à-tête between Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Pope Francis on Nov. 27 have not been made public, but many Christians in Myanmar—Catholic and Baptist alike—hoped that he would speak up for all religious minorities in Myanmar.

He indeed addressed some of these concerns in a speech on Nov. 28, calling for “respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group—none excluded—to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.”

Tensions between the government and restive religious and ethnic minorities have persisted in Myanmar since its independence from Britain in 1948. Last year on Dec. 3, the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, a church named after the saint in northern Shan State was allegedly hit by a Myanmar military airstrike. No one was injured; the parish priest, nuns and local villagers had already fled across the border with China because of previous clashes in the area. But the St. Francis Xavier Church in Mong Ko Township was badly damaged—reports at the time cited a church leader who said only the bell tower remained intact.

State media suggested that the church had been heavily damaged because of the explosion of ammunition that rebels had been storing in the church—an allegation firmly rejected in statements issued by the church.

The roof was subsequently repaired by the army, and the church was repainted in time for Christmas. However, church sources say the structure was not completely restored.

The Baptist community of Kachin State hoped Pope Francis would raise the issue of the heavy sentences handed down to two of their pastors when he spoke with Myanmar government and military officials. It was not clear if Pope Francis discussed these issues during his private meeting with Min Aung Hlaing.

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