Two masked gunmen entered St. Patrick Catholic Church in the town of Mohnyin, Myanmar, on Friday morning during services and fired a volley of bullets at the parish priest, Father Paul Hkwi Shane Aung. Aung was hit three times but survived the attack.

An eyewitness said the priest had just finished reading a passage from the Bible when the gunmen stormed in and opened fire.

“They wore black caps and masks. They fired once while entering through the church door, and then again when they reached the center of the church. Then they approached him and fired a third time,” the witness said.

Another witness said the assailants arrived on a motorcycle and used the same means to escape. The gunmen remained at large as of Friday afternoon.

Father Aung, 40, was struck by bullets in his jaw, hand, and thigh. He was evacuated to a hospital in Mohnyin for emergency medical treatment and later transferred to a hospital in the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina.

An activist in Kachin state told Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) on Friday that “anti-social elements are fomenting religious and ethnic conflict as the civil war in the military-ruled nation has entered a critical phase.”

The primary conflict in the area is between the ruling military junta and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a paramilitary alliance of six local tribes.

The KIA is the most effective and battle-tested group to resist Myanmar’s military government, having captured dozens of military outposts and two major military bases since it launched a major offensive with several allied ethnic militias last October.

The junta’s panicked response included some artillery shells that sailed right over the border into China, prompting strong objections from the regime in Beijing.

The junta also appears to be taking out its anger on churches and pastors, since the government is largely composed of ethnic Burmans who practice Buddhism, while many of the rebellious tribes have Christian populations. About a third of the population in Kachin is Christian.

Myanmar has suffered several military coups since it became independent in 1948, and each junta tended to scapegoat Catholics as disloyal.

Other Christians have suffered repression as well. On March 18, a Baptist pastor named Nammye Hkun Jaw Li was gunned down by unknown assailants while working in the computer shop he owned in Kachin state. Li was an outspoken critic of the military government and a protest organizer.

“They shot him in his stomach twice, and when he did not die, they also shot him in the head,” said a source close to Li’s family.