ROME — Pope Francis has joined the bishops of Myanmar (Burma) in calling for the opening of humanitarian corridors in conflict-torn Myanmar.
“I join my voice to that of the Bishops of Myanmar,” the pope said following his weekly Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square, “who last week launched an appeal calling the entire world’s attention to the heartrending experience of thousands of people in that country who are displaced and have been dying of hunger.”
“We implore with all courtesy that humanitarian corridors be permitted,” Francis continued, and that “churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples, as well as schools and hospitals be respected as neutral places of refuge.”
“May the Heart of Christ touch the hearts of everyone, bringing peace to Myanmar!” he concluded.
In a June 11 statement, the Catholic bishops of Myanmar appealed to the military to stop targeting places of worship, which have suffered repeated attacks.
The bishops requested that international norms of sanctuary in war times be observed, by which “churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples, including schools and hospitals, are recognized as neutral places of refuge during conflict.”
“We appeal that these places are not to be attacked and the people who seek refuge should be protected,” they said, according to a report from Vatican News.
At least six churches in Myanmar have suffered attacks and destruction from the armed conflict between the military and opposition forces.
Thousands have reportedly sought refuge in churches and other houses of worship to escape the violence on the streets while many others have fled to the jungle.
“As our country goes through her challenging times, this appeal is made on humanitarian grounds. We are not politicians, we are faith leaders, accompanying our people in their journey towards human dignity,” said the Myanmar bishops.
The bishops requested the establishment of a “humanitarian corridor” to stave off the starvation of the Burmese people, insisting that thousands of people, “especially the old and the children are starving in the jungles.”
“These are our citizens and they have basic right to food and safety,” the bishops said. “We plead with all to kindly allow the humanitarian corridor to reach out to the starving masses wherever they are.”
The latest statement by the bishops follows on an earlier message in which the bishops urged the military to bring an end to the violence and engage in dialogue.
“The heart-rending scenes of youth dying in the streets wound the conscience of a nation,” the bishops said. “Let not its sacred ground be soaked in fraternal blood. The sadness of parents burying their children has to stop. Mothers’ tears are never a blessing to any nation.”