Visitors to a Tamil Catholic village in Myanmar are greeted by the Holy Cross at its entrance and can see St. Anthony's Church even before they arrive in the center. Yaw Han, 24, is proud of being a Catholic in Hton-Bo-Quay in Kayin State after a community effort helped fund construction of a new church building in 2016-17. His family donated 2 million kyats (US$1,380) to the project, helped by his two elder brothers saving money from their salaries in Malaysia. "We willingly made donations and did not feel it was a burden despite most villagers struggling for their daily survival with traditional agriculture work," Yaw Han told ucanews.com. He helps his family to grow rice when he is not taking part in activities as the village's youth leader. His youth group contributed 300,000 kyats to the church project while other organizations including a mothers' group, pastoral council and women's group donated a total of 16 million kyats.
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About 100 young men and women from the village who are working in Malaysia, Singapore and the United States contributed about 38 million kyats of the overall project cost of 170 million kyats (US$117,300). Father Edward Aye Min Htun says a new church building was needed to accommodate the growing number of Catholics. (ucanews.com photo)
Father Edward Aye Min Htun, parish priest of St. Anthony's Church, appreciated the local contributions, especially those from young people working abroad. The former brick church covered only 93 square meters and did not have enough space for the growing number of Catholics in the area. "I have no worry over financial matters in constructing a new church building as I believe God will help us and it is the work of God," Father Htun told ucanews.com. The priest, who was transferred to the parish in 2015, said local contributions came regularly while the new concrete church building was being constructed. A new building was needed because villagers have a strong faith in God and take part in church celebrations, he said. Hpa-an Diocese contributed 2 million kyats while other donations came from priests who are natives of the village, villagers and private donors from elsewhere in Myanmar. A wooden church was built in Hton-Bo-Quay in 1900 but it was rebuilt with brick in 1932. Construction of the concrete church started in January 2016 and Bishop Justin Saw Min Thide of Hpa-an blessed the building on Dec. 29, 2017, according to church records. Hpa-an Diocese in southeast Myanmar now has 24 priests, 37 male and female religious workers and 73 catechists serving about 20,000 Catholics in the state of 1.5 million people, according to the church's Myanmar directory. Hton-Bo-Quay village, 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 beans and rear animals for their livelihoods. St. Anthony's Catholic Church before it was rebuilt in 2016-17. (Photo supplied)
The village is surrounded by Kayin Buddhist and Muslim villages with whom villagers have a good relationship, according to Father Htun. Hton-Bo-Quay was hit by recent flooding due to torrential rain in Kayin State, with houses, paddy crops and even the church affected by flooding. Karuna Mission Social Solidarity
of Hpa-an provided rice bags to affected villagers. Tamil Catholics
from Hton-Bo-Quay moved to Yathaepyan, a nearby Buddhist village, 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 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 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.