Myanmar’s largest non-state army on Friday freed 100 ethnic Wa Christians it had detained, but continues to hold more than 100 ethnic Lahu Christians in a crackdown on religious freedom in mountainous territory the rebel faction controls in Shan state.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA), a 30,000-strong ethnic armed group comprising the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), the de facto ruling party of the self-declared Wa state not officially recognized by the Myanmar government, began detaining Christian clergy members and shutting down dozens of their churches in September.
The rebel faction questioned the clergy members about whether they were engaging in development work or persuading people to convert to Christianity, in a bid to ferret out “religious extremists” in Wa territory, including missionaries who have not obtained official permission and clergy members who operate outside the law.
Those who were freed on Friday had to sign a document saying that they would pray only at home and not in churches, said Rev. Dr. Lazarus, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention.
Seven priests who refused to sign the document are still being detained, he said.
UWSA militants, most of whom follow tribal religions, also seized more than 40 ethnic Wa students participating in Bible study classes in Mong Pauk township and has reportedly forced them to become recruits, according to a statement issued by the LBC on Sept. 25. The township, the majority of whose population is Lahu, is the headquarters of the LBC.
“I believe they have been forced to become soldiers because photos of them in military uniforms are posted on Facebook,” Rev. Dr. Lazarus said.
The ethnic army also shut down 52 Christian churches in the Mong Pauk region, including ones operated by the Wa Baptist Convention and Kachin Baptist Convention, and destroyed three others, the statement said.
The UWSA is also detaining more than 130 ethnic Lahu Christians, including 92 male and female priests, the LBC said.
LBC has heard that the USWA plans to hold the detainees until April 2019 when it celebrates the 30th anniversary of a bilateral ceasefire it signed with the Myanmar government.
Campaign against Christians
The UWSA announced in September that it would investigate all churches, missionaries, school teachers, and clergy members. It also said it was prohibiting ethnic Wa organizations from getting involved in support groups at churches and banned the teaching of religious lessons or beliefs in government schools.
In a bid to keep out foreign Christian missionaries, the UWSA also said all religious leaders must be local residents of the Wa region and conduct their work activities only with the permission of the Wa government under the rules and regulations of UWSA headquarters.
The rebel army also said that Christian churches erected in the region between 1989 and 1992 had been built legally, but that others constructed after 1992 would be destroyed.
The UWSA is one of several ethnic armed organizations that have not signed the Myanmar government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), insisting that the pact should include all ethnic armies.
The multiethnic area in which the UWSA operates includes various ethnic minority groups, including the Wa, Lahu, Shan, Ta’ang, Kachin, Kokang, Chinese, and Muslims. Christians comprise the largest religious group in the region, whose inhabitants also practice Buddhism, Islam, animism, and spirit worship.
About 88 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 53 million people identify as Buddhists, while 6.2 percent say they are Christian, according to 2014 figures from the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population.
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
UAE to rebuild Iraqi churches destroyed by Daesh
The United Arab Emirates, a Muslim-majority country, has pledged its support to help rebuild two historic churches in Mosul, Iraq. The efforts come in conjunction with UNESCO’s initiative, Revive the Spirit of Mosul.
Al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic Church and Al-Saa’a Church in Mosul were both destroyed by ISIS and are being rebuilt under a program to help postwar Iraq. Al-Tahira, an 800-year-old building, was damaged during mass raids in 2017 while Al-Saa’a was blown up by ISIS terrorists in 2016. The rebuild efforts will target to employee up to 1,000 locals and increase the city’s tourism economy.
UAE’s support of Iraqi Christians comes as part of their 2019 “Year of Tolerance” as proclaimed by the President, Sheikh Khalifa. The goal of the initiative is to place the UAE as a model of tolerance and increase communication between divided groups. The Abrahamic Family House, a religious facility that includes a mosque, church and synagogue, is another portion of UAE’s proposed religious tolerance efforts.
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