10/28/2014, 00.00
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Fr Belisario: From Colombia to Bangladesh, the "madness" of the mission

by Bernardo Cervellera
Fr Belisario de Jesus Montoya Cyrus, 29, is a Colombian priest from the diocese of Sonsón-Rionegro. A month ago, he left for Bangladesh. For him, the missio ad gentes should be part of every priest's baggage. Although the pain of separation is too much for his parents ("They cried as if I had been laid to rest in a coffin."), for him, this is the way to be "like Jesus" and experience the Church's universality.

Rome (AsiaNews) - From "a human point of view," going on a mission to a distant country "is madness." Even the suffering caused to one parents for the separation makes one wonder if "it is worth it". However, "I know that God makes these sacrifices bear fruit for his work," said Fr Belisario Ciro de Jesus Montoya, 29, a Colombian priest from the diocese of Sonson-Rionegro, as he explained his decision to go on mission.

For the past month, he has been in Dhaka (Bangladesh), together with the missionaries of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), studying the local language to begin his missionary service among non-Christians.

For Fr Belisario, the universal mission should be part of every priest's daily experience. However, in view of what Pope Francis calls the Church's self-referentiality, going abroad in the mission ad gentes is seen as something exceptional.

What follows is the interview he gave a few days before he left for Asia.

How did you discover your calling and the desire to proclaim the Gospel in Asia?

There is no single moment or anecdote that can make me say, "This is the call; this is the moment". Since I have become aware of things as a child, I wanted to become a priest.

I remember that one time, when I was seven or eight perhaps, a missionary came to talk to the school. At the end of the conference, he asked, "Who among you wants to become a missionary?" Everyone raised their hands. I did not because I did not understand the difference between a priest and a missionary. I knew however that I wanted to become a priest above all.

Did you enter the seminary as a child?

No. I would have liked to and my mother and I asked our parish priest, but he took my face in his hands and said, "When he opens your eyes, if you still want to do it, we shall help you." Today I thank God for the priest's wisdom. He attended my ordination. I told him, "Look, I opened my eyes and I am here." And he was really happy.

Where did you study?

In the diocese of Sonsón-Rionegro. As a child, I studied in a small country school. We rarely went to Mass because we were eight children and my parents took one of us to the town every week, to go to the market and the Mass. I studied in the countryside in middle school, but only two days a week. The other days I worked in the fields.

At that time, I had given up on the idea of ​​the priesthood, partly because I did not have a clear idea, and partly because my father wanted me to stay to work in the fields. He did not encourage us to go away to study. Eventually, I entered a vocational school and started the diocesan seminary and three years of philosophy.

In our region, this is offered in a town near that of my family. It was youthful place with about 50 people. After that, I studied theology at the National Seminary of Christ the Priest, also in our diocese. After two years of theology, I was sent for a year to do pastoral practice. I went out on mission outside our diocese, in an indigenous tribe, the Iguaju, who live in an area in northern Colombia and Venezuela. Then I went back to the seminary.

We had people of different ages and from different regions of Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. At that time, the bishop asked me if I wanted to go to Rome to finish my specialisation and I said yes. I did three years in Rome, and then I came back. I was ordained and worked for a year and a half in the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of Viboral.

The rector and the bishop wanted me to help in the seminary, as an educator and in charge of studies. I also taught some epistemology courses at university. In the diocese, I met Fr Danilo (Gomes) and Fr Heraldo who had already been on mission to Bangladesh. The latter told me that the bishop was looking for someone willing to go. I told him I was.

I must say that I had a desire to go on mission from before going to the seminar. In fact . . . for me, it was something natural, not at all extraordinary. If we are in a country where the majority is Catholic, it is the most natural thing to want to look further afield, where things are different, where people do not know Jesus or where the Church does not exist.

In Rome, I found myself with Fr Danilo and another priest and we told ourselves that it would be nice to start with the mission. The third priest opted out, but Danilo and I were ready for Bangladesh.

You say that a priest is intrinsically a missionary for the whole world. So we should all go . . . .

We started this missionary experience in Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, because the bishop at the time, Mgr Flavio Calle Zapata, now archbishop of Ibague, noticed that we had priests in America and Europe as well as Africa but not in Asia.

He then asked the cardinal of Propaganda Fide and the prefect encouraged him to reach an agreement with PIME. The bishop always said, "Our diocese has been blessed with many vocations and so we have to go on a mission . . ." In fact, our philosophy seminar had at least 90 students. The bishop egged us on and others continued. The priests returning from Bangladesh also encouraged others to share the experience of mission.

Is this experience good for the priests?

Sure, it gives us a chance to understand the Church's universality in a more real and concrete way. When we know that one of our own previously worked in a place so far away and in a different reality, we understand that the Church is for the whole world.

The idea of ​​Bangladesh came to me reading articles, experiences and listening to priests who had been there. One of them has also published a book, Father Fabio Arcila.

How did you see them changed after the mission?

I did not know them before they left. But I told myself that so far it has been an enriching process that has allowed me to understand the Church's universality, the differences between cultures, how to live the faith and spirituality. I thank God for the opportunity he gave to me.

I want to make it clear that I am not going to Bangladesh out of curiosity, but it is a command, something that I feel deeply in my heart. If there were no one else, I would stay at home. I am told that there is so much to do in Colombia, at the seminary and in the parish . . . .

Even in Italy and Ireland, I was told that there is need there, but it is in Bangladesh that I must go, not because I want it, but because I obey my bishop. It is above all an act of obedience, not something exotic, to learn languages ​​and cultures.

I am going there willingly as I did in the case of my previous experiences. As I said, it is strange that a natural thing (the universal mission) should be considered an extraordinary event. In fact, my parents' neighbours thought that the bishop was sending me to Asia as a punishment!

Why has the vision of the universal mission narrowed?

Because sadly and unfortunately, what happened is what Pope Francis calls the Church's self-referentiality. We think that staying in our country and doing good is enough. That is not the case and this does not happen only in Colombia but happens everywhere.

It is always tempting to think that we have already been saved for doing something. Sure, going abroad on a mission involves a sacrifice, it is not easy to leave one's family, comfort, plans, but if we look beyond, we will never understand that we are only at the beginning of the mission of the Church.

We might all be Christian in Colombia or at least baptised, and although there is much to do here, we have to look where the Gospel has not yet been proclaimed.

Is it worth leaving everything to go on mission?

From a human point of view, it is not worth it. It is crazy. And this point of view sometimes comes back to me. My mother keeps asking me to come back.

From a human point of view, it also makes no sense. However, one needs faith in Jesus. One needs to judge with the eyes of faith, otherwise there is no reason. It would be more comfortable just to stay where I have everything and everyone rather than go to a place where I do not even know if I am needed.

I was impressed with some thoughts by Fr Franco Cagnasso when he said that the missionary is the most expensive, cumbersome, expensive, useless things that exists . . . And yet he is needed because there is this a need to preach Jesus Christ.

What does one gain by leaving everything?

The Lord is very generous and overcomes by every measure the sacrifice that one does. I am aware of that, and I am convinced of it because I perceive it . . . .

I am sure I will earn something and with this confidence, I shall leave for the mission, because I will not be guided by my own strengths but by Jesus. I also know that every little sacrifice will become a blessing, not only for myself but also for others who sacrificed themselves for this. In particular, let me stress this, it will be a blessing for my family.

Did your family suffer a lot?

When I left I was at peace, but for my parents it was as if I was dying. They cried as if I had been laid to rest in a coffin. It was a potent experience, because I love my parents and my family. Seeing them suffer made me wonder if it was worth it, because for them it was like the end of the world.

Is it worth make my parents suffer this way? I found the answers in this, the first year. Today, although they are still suffering, the way they look at my ministry and my calling is different and more imbued with a deeper faith.

The Lord helped them grow, as he did with me; hence, I am happy and at peace because I know that God makes these sacrifices bear fruit for his work. I do not know if I will convert anyone, but I pray God that at least I can convert and become more like Jesus.

The motto or phrase that inspires my life is "seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides". Thus, I have gone looking for Him and the rest will come. If anyone starts to seek Jesus through me, glory unto God. That would be a beautiful thing!

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