MONHLA, Myanmar — Catholics from a village in Myanmar’s embattled northwestern Sagaing region celebrated the feast of St. Michael, patron of their parish, amid ongoing fighting.

Hundreds of villagers joined the celebration at St. Michael’s Church for Mass Sept. 29, reported

Clergy and faithful from surrounding villages were not able to participate in this year’s celebration because of fighting between Myanmar’s military and local militia groups.

Just three days before the feast, the villagers almost fled as artillery shelling damaged several houses in the village, though no casualties were reported, reported. One villager said shells hit three houses Sept. 26, but people had no idea where the shelling came from.

One Catholic woman staying with relatives away from the village said she was saddened that she could not join the novena and the feast day this year.

“When we were planning to go back and join the feast, we heard the military raided a nearby village, so we were too afraid to return,” she said.

Church sources said that, since late July, some villagers had already fled their homes and taken temporary refuge at relatives’ homes and church premises, following a military raid on a nearby village.

Buddhists and Catholics have lived together peacefully for decades in Monhla, which was home to Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon and Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay.

The junta has stepped up an offensive in the region — a stronghold of resistance against the military that ousted the civilian government in February 2021. Villages have been shelled and bombed and houses burned in several villages, resulting in the displacement of thousands of people.

Catholic bishops repeatedly have called for respect for human life and the sanctity of places of worship, hospitals and schools in the conflict-torn Southeast Asian nation.