03/20/2008, 00.00
VATICAN – MYANMAR
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Father Vismara, a venerable patriarch of Burma

by Piero Gheddo
Another step is taken towards the beatification of the PIME missionary who spent 65 years in Myanmar. The Vatican proclaims him Venerable, but he was already venerated by his Church as well as by Buddhists and Muslims.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Pope Benedict XVI signed a degree last Saturday declaring Fr Clemente Vismara a ‘Venerable’, thus acknowledging in him a Christian who embodied the Evangelical virtues in a heroic manner. But in Myanmar, where the PIME missionary lived for 65 years, Father Vismara was already venerated by the Church as the ‘Patriarch of Burma’ after the bishops bestowed upon him that honorary title on his 80th birthday. When he eventually passed away at the age of 91 in 1988, he was further honour with a colour cover on the annual calendar, which remains to this day the most widely distributed Church publication at the parish level, among families faithful to Jesus Christ.

The Venerable Clemente is thus a step closer to beatification, as soon as one of the six possible “miracles” achieved through his intercession in the diocese of Kengtung is approved. Here Bishop Emeritus Abraham Than has been promoting devotion to him, gaining support among non Christians as well.

The last time I visited Burma in 2002 I saw something moving. In many homes, schools, public buildings, even Buddhist pagodas, a small picture of him was placed side by side that of Christ or Buddha on top of small ancestor altars.

Father Vismara is a good example of the spirit of PIME’s missionary tradition and much more, bringing Christ to faraway and abandoned peoples, announcing Him not so much in words but in love and help for children and the poor.

In 65 years of missionary life he founded four missionary districts, each with its own Christian community, church, school, charitable works and health facilities.

Clemente lived in extraordinary fashion the ordinary life of missionaries in old Burma. So much so that when the process for his beatification started some of his brothers said that “if you make him a saint, we too are saint since we lived the same life.”

But Mgr Abraham Than responded to this objection by saying that “whilst it is true that PIME had many good and saintly missionaries in Burma, Vismara was the only one whose death elicited an extraordinary response. When he died many Buddhists, Animists and Muslims came and today his tomb is visited by many faithful who pray to him, claiming to have received an intercession thanks to him. His tomb is always adorned with vigil lights, candles and fresh flowers.”

Prayers are dedicated to Father Clemente as the “Children’s Saint” since he realised from the beginning that to create Christian communities he had to start with children who were brought to him from villages destroyed by war or pestilence.

NB.: An in-depth report on Fr Clemente Vismara will be published in AsiaNews’ paper edition in April 2008.

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