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Parish partnership a timely sign of solidarity


A small Catholic parish in northern Myanmar caught up in war and large scale displacement of people for the past 20 years is receiving much-needed support through a unique partnership with two rural South Australian parishes.

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Sevenhill and Riverton/Manoora parishes became aware of the plight of St Michael’s Jesuit parish, centred around Nanhlaing Village in Kachin State near the Myanmar-China border, through Jesuit Mission Australia in 2019.

Discussions about a partnership with St Michael’s were formalised in March this year by St Michael’s parish priest, Fr Stephen Mar Tay, and the parish pastoral councils of Sevenhill and Riverton/Manoora.

Sevenhill Parish Pastoral Council chair John Grbin said St Michael’s was one of the smallest parishes in the Banwaw Diocese with only 278 Catholic households and 1417 faithful.

He said since 2001 the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army had been fighting, displacing more than 120,000 people.

After a fragile ceasefire, families had begun to return to their villages, only to find that many of their farms had been taken over by the military or large companies.

Hundreds of young people had been forced to find work in other villages or near the China border.

“Myanmar is facing an acute humanitarian emergency and the fallout from years of ongoing fighting, coupled with COVID-19 and the recent military coup, has pushed millions of people into hunger and homelessness,” Mr Grbin said.

“Many people who have lost livelihoods and with no savings to fall back on, have relied heavily on the Church and Jesuit Mission for support for the daily basics of food and shelter.

“Many of the school programs, especially the programs designed to improve their local Kachin and Shan, as well as English skills, have had to be stopped.”

When migrant workers returning from neighbouring China struggled to find COVID quarantine facilities, St Michael’s parish hall was set up as a quarantine centre for these returning workers.

The parish has also converted a former girls’ hostel and constructed a temporary shelter for the many people who have fled the fighting and lost their homes.

In April St Michael’s was looking after more than 300 displaced people in these facilities and in June there were 54 workers in quarantine.

Mr Grbin said it was hoped the partnership would achieve “a greater knowledge and understanding of our respective parishes and demonstrate solidarity with the people of Myanmar in their time of need”.

The plan was to build capacity through sharing resources and experience while giving witness to the universality of the Church as “parts of the one body of Christ”.

One practical way of supporting the St Michael’s community was to hold a concert on Sunday November 7 in St Aloysius Church at Sevenhill, with proceeds going to the parish in Myanmar to help it build infrastructure and treat COVID patients.

Called ‘Songs of Myanmar’, the concert will feature Opera Australia soprano Karina Bailey and pianist Yining Zhang.


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