MUMBAI, India – Myanmar’s cardinal has called on the military and militias to show “mercy” on the poverty-stricken populations caught in the crossfire of the country’s ongoing ethnic conflicts.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon also called out the country’s religious leaders for their “criminal” silence about the violence in the country.

“Not a single day passes without the heart wrenching news of innocent civilians being displaced or killed or maimed by the ongoing conflict in Lashio, other Northern regions and Rakhine State,” the cardinal said in an Oct. 1 statement.

“I had served as the priest and bishop in this area for almost 20 years. Most of these people are extremely poor and innocent people,” Bo continued. “Striving for basic needs is their daily unending struggle. No group had done any economic development for these people.”

Myanmar has been transitioning from a military dictatorship since Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the 2015 general election.

However, the military still wields enormous power behind the scenes, and the country’s ongoing conflicts with its minority populations are largely unresolved.

Although the ongoing Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state has dominated the headlines, Myanmar’s Karen, Shan, Mon, Chin and other minority groups also suffer discrimination from the country’s Burmese majority. Ethnic militias have been battling the central government for decades.

“A ferocious conflict rages in around them, forcing them to flee. With pain and sorrow, I have been witness to their tears, their blood and their brokenness. Those who claim to fight in their names never cared for their safety. Parties in conflict have never shied away from using heavy weapons  including  aerial  bombing,” Bo said.

These ethnic conflicts often have religious overtones: The Rohingya are Muslim, and many of the other ethnic minorities are predominantly Christian, causing tensions with the Buddhist establishment.

Bo said he was “pained by the silence of religious leaders” in the country, both Buddhist and Christian.

“Some silence can be criminal. The war pursued is unjust and unholy. Our prayers and rituals are nullified by the blood and tears of innocent people,” the cardinal said.

“Myanmar people are peace-loving and follow the guidelines of their religious leaders. There is a huge potential for peace through religious leaders. Kindly raise your voice against this mutilating war,” he appealed. “Kindly speak out. Peace is possible, Peace is the only way.”

To the country’s military and militia leaders, Bo posed some simple questions:

“Are these innocent, poor people your enemies? Are they not your brothers and sisters? Why are you merciless to these people? How many people have died because of your chronic war? How  many women and children languish in forsaken camps? Have you not seen their anguish and unending tears? Where is the mercy? Does this make you happy? Have you got a clear plan where this painful war is going?”

Bo warned that the suffering of innocent people will never go away: “Their blood and tears will cry out from the grave.”

Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.