The first missionaries arrived in 1868 centred on the most distant and remote groups: the tribes of the eastern regions. PIME contributed to the foundation of the local Church with five dioceses: Taunggyi, Toungoo, Kengtung, Lashio and Loikaw. Between 1950 and 1953 five PIME priests became martyrs, including the Blessed Fr Mario Vergara. Two, Fr Clemente Vismara and Fr Paul Manna, have been elevated to the honour of the altars. Meanwhile, the beatification process of Brother Felice Tantardini is underway.
Taungngu (AsiaNews) – Today and tomorrow, churches in Taungngu (Bago region) will solemnly celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Eastern Burma.
Crossing the Sittang River, four priests led by Eugenio Biffi brought the Gospel for the first time to the farthest and most isolated region of Burma, among the Shan, Karen, and Kayan peoples.
To celebrate the anniversary, PIME Superior General Fr Ferruccio Brambillasca came to Taungngu together with the bishops of Myanmar (picture 1).
This morning, the festivities began with the blessing of the Catholic cemetery (picture 2), where some of the first missionaries are buried, followed by Mass attended by the prelates, about 200 priests and thousands of believers from the dioceses where PIME has served for 150 years.
The high point of the celebrations will be the solemn service scheduled for tomorrow.
Card Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, sent his best wishes to the "small but lively Church", "the Lord's vineyard in Eastern Myanmar", in a message to Mgr Isaac Danu, bishop of Taungngu.
In congratulating the local Church on this important anniversary, the cardinal noted "the heroism of the first missionaries" and "the perseverance and faith of those who joined them in preaching the Gospel with love".
The Gospel first arrived in Myanmar with Armenian traders in the Middle Ages, followed by Indian painters in the 13th century, Portuguese sailors in the 16th century, and finally mercenaries and pirates at the dawn of the modern era.
A number of missionary orders began arriving starting in the early 18th century, including the Barnabites, Oblates, PIME, Salesians, Sisters of the Holy Child Mary, to spread Christianity in the country.
In PIME’s case, the first missionaries arrived in 1868 among some of the most distant and remote groups, the tribes of the eastern regions, who were not under British rule and therefore untouched by the modern world.
PIME contributed greatly to the establishment of the local Church. Six dioceses were created by PIME missionaries: Taunggyi (archdiocese), Toungoo, Kengtung, Lashio, Loikaw and Pekhon.
The Institute’s presence in the country was shaped by some of the most critical phases of its history, such as the expulsion in 1966 of all foreign religious who had arrived in the country before its independence in 1948, and the seizure of Church properties.
At that time 29 missionaries chose to remain until they died, including Fr Clemente Vismara, who was beatified in 2011. He was raised to the honour of the altars like Fr Paolo Manna and Fr Mario Vergara.
The latter was one of five PIME martyrs killed in Burma between 1950 and 1953. He was beatified in 2014 with Isidore Ngei Ko Lat, the first native martyr of the Church of Myanmar.
Brother Felice Tantardini’s process of beatification is still underway.
About 89.2 per cent of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist. Christians are 5 per cent; Muslims, 3.5 per cent; and Hindus, 0.5 per cent.
Christians have always been a minority in Myanmar. After great efforts and testimonies, including the martyrdom of missionaries, the country is home to 675,745 Catholics, just over 1 per cent.