Recently, we received a note of thanks from the diocese of Mytikyina for the donation we gave towards the completion of St. Michael's Church at Brigade Hill in Ka chyi Htu parish, Myanmar. Construction work was completed by the end of February 2016, and the new chapel was blessed by the chancellor, Fr. Paul Lum Dau, on April 8, 2016.
Brigade Hill takes its name from the presence of the First Brigade (Northern Command) Head Quarters of the Kachin Independence Army (K.I.A), still technically at war with the Myanmar National Army. In recent years, the Catholics have been increasing in number there, one noteworthy reason being the influx of displaced people from the surrounding villages that lie the foot of the hills and scattered in the hills. The majority of the soldiers in the KIA army camp are also Catholic. Local people still practice slash and burn method of agriculture to produce rice and other crops. Some of them are hired workers; many are self-employed, but small scale gold mining is most common.
There is one public dispensary, a high school, and hostels for 300 boys and girls from other villages, all run by the KIA "government," which also supervises a refugee camp including 40 students who fled from the Myanmar (Central) government controlled area since the start of the war in Kachin State. As a result, the whole region is safe and peaceful, and the civil population is not affected directly by the current war in Kachin State.
Rebuilding their church was the pastoral plan of the local community in order to better serve as meeting place both for religious functions and shelter in case of emergencies.
The construction was started with the funds locally collected, 20,000.00 MMK ($20.00) per family. Because of the financial difficulties, the work was pending for almost four years. With the kind support from the Missionary Society of St. Columban, they could continue the construction work and completed the project.
The construction work paused during the monsoon. Meanwhile, the local community produced cement-brick which reduced costs. The fighting that broke out in June 2015 between KIA and the government troops in Mali Yang, Sumpra Bum, forced the people to leave their villages. This effected the situation and life of the people in the upper most mission of Myitkyina diocese, because power-boats and other means of transportation were not allowed for almost two months, thus, collecting construction materials, cement, and lime was difficult. After that, transportation fees were very high for there are many checkpoints.
The foundation was laid in 2010. December 1, 2014, we received the subsidy grant from Missionary Society of St. Columban, Hong Kong. With that we could collect some necessary construction materials such as hinges, bolts, nails, handles, hook and eyes, and window panes and could finish one third of walling and partial flooring. The ceiling work was done with the kind donation from Catholic Kachin Community in Canada.
The local Catholics contributed their labor from time to time. The construction committee also asked help from the KIA and went a trip to the gold mining town of Hpakant, Myitkyina parishes and the gold mines along the Irrawaddy bank with a few community elders asking help for this project.
Lack of Water
Another difficult aspect of life in Brigade Hill is that due to the non-availability of water from the open well in the church compound for masonry work, the boarding students, whose schooling is also subsidized by the Columbans, had to fetch water from a spring located far from the church compound. Nevertheless, the students generously contributed their service in this way.
Conclusion With the help of Missionary Society of St. Columban, generous benefactors and the sacrifice of the local faithful, Brigade Hill has a new chapel now. The faithful are very proud of it because it is the biggest one in Kachyi Htu parish. In an interview, a woman said that they have been doing liturgical services in the dilapidated wooden chapel for years. Now they have new one and are very excited for that. She said that she cannot help waiting to see catechism class for the children and others church activities are to be conducted to in this new chapel.
The chief catechist of Dap-ba Kawng said that the local people are very proud of their sacrifice and labor and they are very grateful to everyone who made it possible for them to complete the chapel.
Fr. Bosco is Diocesan Pastoral Project Department in Myitkyina Diocese.