By Mark Michael
The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Communion’s Secretary General, issued an Easter message of hope to the people of Myanmar on April 3, calling on Christians around the world to pray for the embattled nation and its people.
Idowu-Fearon wrote, “On Easter Day we celebrate the triumph of life over death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was Good News for the world two millennia ago; and it is still Good News for the world in 2021.
“Today, as this ultimate Good News story is celebrated around the world, I call on Christians everywhere to set aside time to pray for the people and country of Myanmar – that wisdom will prevail and enduring peace will come.”
Myanmar’s military took control of the nation’s government on February 1, detaining its civilian state counselor (a position equivalent to prime minister), pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi. They shut down communications networks and installed a commander as head of state. Myanmar previously endured five decades of military rule, which were only broken by a movement headed by Suu Kyi in 2018.
A group of lawmakers, elected in November but never allowed to take their seats in the country’s parliament, announced the establishment of a rival government on April 1. Peaceful pro-democracy protests have broken out across the country in recent weeks, and many have been brutally suppressed. There have also been a series of attacks on minority communities, especially the Rohingya Muslims. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local advocacy group, estimates that 536 people have been killed by the junta.
Christine Schraner Burgener, the United Nations special envoy for Myanmar, warned the Security Council on March 31 that “a bloodbath is imminent” as well as a “possibility of civil war” in the country if civilian rule is not restored.
A recent Christianity Today article noted that the takeover is especially concerning to the nation’s Christians, as past military regimes have taken a hardline pro-Buddhist stance, severely restricting the ability of Christians to gather and share their faith. Some Christians are also members of historically targeted minority groups, like the Karen people who form a disproportionate share of the country’s Anglicans. The advocacy group Open Doors USA ranks Myanmar 18th on its list of countries where Christians are most persecuted.
Christianity is growing significantly in the country, but Christians made up only 6.3% of the nation’s population in the 2016 census. Formerly the British colony of Burma, the country was one of the first major centers of Protestant missions in Asia, and during the colonial period, the Church of England founded and operated most of the country’s elite schools. The Diocese of Rangoon (now Yangon) was founded in 1877, and the city’s Holy Trinity Cathedral is among its notable architectural monuments.
All foreign missionaries were expelled by the former military regime in 1966, and the Church of the Province of Myanmar, which now has six dioceses and about 70,000 members, was established four years later. The Most Rev. Stephen Than Myint Oo has served as the primate since 2008.
Idowu Fearon closed his message “And to the people of Myanmar, I say: You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are not abandoned. The world is watching as this situation unfolds and we are praying that a durable solution will be found bringing peace to all.”