Trent (AsiaNews) They left on foot on a two-week missionary trip into northern Laos along mountain paths in the tropical forest in response to a call from Hmong people in Pha Xoua village on the border with China. Father Mario was 27-year-old, an OMI missionary. Thoj Xyooj Paolo was already a good catechist despite his 19 years. The Pathet Lao intercepted and killed them. They were probably dumped into a mass grave near Muong Met and never found. That was in April 1960.
Last Sunday, on the liturgical day of The Blessed Virgin of the Rosary in the "Month of the Missionary", the diocesan inquest for the two men's canonisation opened in Trent, Fr Mario Borzaga's home town, in the presence of Archbishop Luigi Bressan and the presiding tribunal.
This is an event, explained Fr Angelo Pelis O.M.I., the postulator of the cause who studied theology with Father Borzaga and served as a missionary in Laos till his expulsion in1975, with many "messages".
"There is one I want to stress," he said. "There is no age limit for becoming a saint even though 'martyrdom' is a special grace."
"Father Mario will not be a 'saint' only because he was a martyr, but he'll get the martyr's crown for his vocation and sainthood. This encourages us to follow his example. He himself wrote about it: 'One should not only admire the saints, but one should also imitate them'."
Father Borzaga was born in Trent on August 27, 1932. At the age of 11, he entered the minor seminary, first in Drena because of the war, and then in Trent where he pursued his studies till his first theology.
At the age of 20 he joined the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates Of Mary Immaculate. And on February 27, 1957, he was ordained priest. He received the Obedience for Laos on July 2, 1957, and on October 31 sailed from Naples with a group Italian Oblate missionaries.
At the age of 25, he was the youngest of the group. After a month they arrived in Laos. In Paksane, a small town on the Mekong River, where the Servant of God spent a year learning Lao to be better able to get in touch with people and announce the Good Word.
Towards the end of 1958 he reached the small Christian community in the Hmong village of Kiucatiàm. Here he trained catechists, visited local families, took in and took care of the sick who came in great numbers every day to his door.
On April 24, 1960, after mass, a few Hmong came to ask him again to visit their village of Pha Xoua, which is three days away on foot. The next day, Monday, Father Mario and catechist Thoj Xyooj Paolo left for a trip they would never finish.
Searches carried out after their disappearance yielded nothing. From the beginning witness accounts said the two men were killed by the Pathet Lao. More recent statements confirmed that claim.
Catechist Thoj Xyooj Paolo was Lao. Born in Kiukatiàm, northern Laos, in 1941, he was baptised by Fr Yves Bertrais, OMI. In 1955, at the age of 14, he entered the seminary of Paksane, where he was given the Lao name of Khamsé.
He left the seminary for various reasons, including health problems. Back in Kiukatiàm in 1958, he left for Na Vam (northern Laos near the border with China) with Fr Luigi Sion, OMI.
People who knew him remember an open and enthusiastic catechist, a good teacher who was able to convert many.
He left Na Vam for the Catechist School in Louang Prabang, but he did not stay long. Eventually he was back in his village.
He spent his last three months with Father Mario who often wrote about him in his "diary".
'Diary of a happy man' is in fact the title Father Mario gave to his journal, Father Pelis said. Along with many letters, writings and witness accounts by people who knew him directly or indirectly we can draw a portrait of Mario Borzaga's exemplary character.
First of all, Mario believed, a profound emotion that came from discovering the greatest 'Yes' in history, Mary's 'Yes' to God's plan! He was a poet, young but especially certain as to what he wanted to be: "a happy man, priest, apostle, missionary . . . a martyr". A soul open to the Light of Christ, in love with his priesthood, Mary Immaculate and Addolorata and with the mission. Three key words stand out in his diary: saint, martyr, blood. The word 'saint' comes up 75 times; 'blood', 43 times; and 'martyr', 20 times.
"Fr Mario Borzaga," said Mgr Bressan, "went to Laos as a missionary, as an Oblate, as someone who placed his trust in God's calling and gave himself, fully. In an environment he knew to be difficult he gave himself totally, to the service of his brothers. In that mission, which was a risk to his life, he was happy amid the sacrifice."
"His generosity is an encouragement to us all to follow this path of true giving and generosity. With the witness of Fr Mario Borzaga and lay catechist Thoj Xyooj Paolo the Christian community is richer. For this reason we are grateful to these martyrs who, through their lives and their heroism, knew how to be witness to the faith in Christ".
"As time goes by, interest in these two men grows so does admiration and edification," said Fr Marcello Sgarbossa, his O.M.I. provincial for Italy. "Laotian bishops, who are prevented from doing anything because of the situation in which they live, have been insistent in asking the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates Of Mary Immaculate to make sure that these two "witnesses to the faith be known and recognised".
"I am certain," he said, "that irrespective of the Church's point of view, knowing these two 'witnesses' will go to God' glory and will be useful to the Christian people, especially those who live in Laos."
"We especially hope and pray that the admiration for these young missionaries encourage and inspire today's youth to follow their example and their place in announcing the Gospel."