For many of us, attending Mass at our local church is relatively easy. But for the faithful in Myanmar it has often been a struggle just to keep their faith alive.
Decades of civil war and unrest have contributed to Myanmar’s current levels of poverty and lack of economic progress. And political turmoil and the repression of religious minorities plagued Myanmar during much of the second half of the twentieth century. While the situation has improved, we have so much work left to do.
Meeting the needs of a growing community
Many children, especially in rural areas, have limited access to basic healthcare and education. And with global warming increasing the frequency of the country’s cyclones and droughts, the years ahead will certainly remain challenging.
But one community is proving that, with the support from their Catholic brothers and sisters in England and Wales, the fire in their hearts cannot be extinguished.
The village of Po Kan Bay in the Yangon diocese is home to around 500 people. To address the spiritual, educational and medical needs of this growing community, Missio supporters contributed funds for the construction of a church in the village. The Holy Family Church has become the hub of the village. It’s a space for people to live their faith on a daily basis, as well as providing education classes and a medical clinic within its walls.
Meeting the challenges with hope
Guiding the community is Fr John Paul, the parish priest. He worked with his parishioners to build the Church, and then a road so that villagers from other areas could share the new building.
‘In the wet season, our village was inaccessible, which is why we had to build a new road,’ Fr John explains. ‘With our own hands and the cement and sand we bought with donations, we were able to develop the community.’
But the unpredictable weather wasn’t the only challenge that the villagers faced. The government had enforced restrictions on constructing churches and other Christian buildings, which threatened to scupper the villagers’ hopes. But there have been some positive changes in the political climate, an the villagers enjoy a harmonious relationship with their Buddhist neighbours. So they eventually obtained permission to build the Church.
It took two years to build and since its completion, its presence has changed the village. While the villagers have always been devout, the absence of a place where they could congregate made it difficult for them to foster a greater sense of community. Now, a full Mass is celebrated every Sunday. Not only has this strengthened the bonds within the community, but also the ties that villagers, who have moved elsewhere, maintain with the community.
People in the communities Missio supports are more than ready to put in the work and grow their communities. But they need our help. Every penny, pound and prayer you gift to Missio helps create a stronger church community around the world.
Keeping a strong faith
Moses Mattha, a village elder, illustrates this through his relationship with one of his sons. Moses plants mango and banana trees and sends the fruit to Yangon by boat, but his son decided to seek a different life in Singapore. But as someone who contributed to the Church’s construction, his life abroad hasn’t weakened his faith, as his father explains. ‘Young people leave the village to work in the city and other countries, but he still stays strong in faith,’ Moses says.
The gradual loss of its youth is just one of the challenges that the community still faces. Apart from limited educational facilities, access to health care is also an issue. Fr John is able to provide basic health care to his parishioners. But those who have more serious problems must travel to Yangon. Meanwhile, there are no living quarters for the priests and seminarians who visit the community. The infrastructure of its spiritual life also needs strengthening. But Fr John is confident that, by overcoming these challenges, his parish will continue to grow.
‘I am very happy to help the people, spiritually and socially. And I believe that, with the Lord’s help, we will grow stronger in His faith.’
Your support makes all the difference
Every penny, pound and prayer you put in your Red Box makes a difference to our sisters and brothers around the world. Please help us support missionaries like Fr John Paul provide the infrastructure, healthcare and education their parishes so desperately need, by donating to APF today.