Indian Catholic News

Elderly Tamil Catholic prays for new church in Myanmar

An 89-year-old Catholic living among Buddhists is hoping she will live to see the restoration of an unused place of worship.

 
Hpa-An: 

On a cloudy and humid day in late May, 89-year-old Mary Tin Tin Da gazes into the nearby church from a window and then slowly walks to sit on the floor.

"I feel tired and sometimes so dizzy that I cannot talk much," whispers Tin Tin, whose family is the only Catholic one in her village in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

The ethnic Tamil woman's two-story wooden house is very close to the dilapidated St. John de Britto Catholic church, which hasn't been used for years.

"Whenever I meet priests and nuns, I appeal to them to help build a new church as it is my last wish before I pass away," Tin Tin says.

She lives in Yathaepyan village in Kayin State. More than 5,000 people live in a village only 10 kilometers from state capital Hpa-an. It has a government-run high school and a small clinic. Most villagers survive by growing rice.

As Tin Tin cannot walk far, a priest visits her to give her communion at least once a month. "I always say the rosary at home as I haven't been able to attend Mass for five years," she says as she takes a cold drink.

She says her Buddhist neighbors regularly visit her house. "I keep maintaining my faith and never feel down despite being the only Catholic family among Buddhist neighbors," the mother of four tells ucanews.com.

Tin Tin has good relations with Buddhist families, who also participate in an annual Catholic feast day celebration. "I am happy to be living here and have never had an argument with my Buddhist neighbors," she says.

Tin Tin lives alone at her house as her second son and his family live elsewhere in the village. She moved to Yathaepyan from Hton-Bo-Quay village 54 years ago after getting married.

Hton-Bo-Quay, 25 kilometers from Hpa-an, has about 700 Tamil Catholics. Tamils have been living there since 1823, according to church records. They grow rice and rear animals for their livelihood.

In Yathaepyan, St. John de Britto Church's doors are broken and trees grow alongside the shabby building. A statue of St. John de Britto (1647-93), a Portuguese Jesuit missionary in Tamil Nadu in southern India, remains inside the church. He was beheaded for preaching Christianity.

Father Edward Aye Min Htun, the parish priest, says Catholics from Hton-Bo-Quay take part in the feast day for St. John de Britto in Yathaepyan on Feb.4 each year. The church is too small to accommodate hundreds of Catholics for Mass, so the celebration is held outside.

Father Htun, who was transferred to the parish in 2015, says the church has not been used for years except for the parish feast day and on All Souls' Day.

"Building a new church mainly depends on the relationship between Catholics and the majority Buddhists. If they [Buddhists] don't oppose it, we can build it through local contributions," Father Htun says.

Francis, the second son of Tin Tin, remembers three Catholic families living in Yathaepyan, some 40 years ago before they moved to other areas.

"Buddhists participate in the church's celebration and both sides help at each other's funeral services," says Francis, a former soldier in Myanmar's military who left in 2007 due to health problems. "We want to build a new church but we can't afford to build it ourselves as we are farmers."

St. John de Britto Church was reinforced with concrete in 1935 after being a wooden structure for more than seven decades.

Tamil Catholics from Hton-Bo-Quay moved to Yathaepyan in 1954 after their village was set on fire due to conflict. They returned to their homes in 1956 when the situation became stable.

Kayin State is a conflict-torn region that has suffered civil war for more than 60 years. The Karen National Union has fought Myanmar's military since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Tamils are native to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu as well as the nearby island nation of Sri Lanka.

Tamils, brought to Myanmar by the colonial British, comprise about 2 percent of Myanmar's population of 51 million. Tamil Catholics are estimated to number about 50,000. Many Tamils were forced to flee the military dictatorship after General Ne Win's coup in 1962.

Source: UCAN

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