Fr. Clemente Vismara, "Patriarch of Burma" to be declared blessed
Milan (AsiaNews) – On Sunday, June 26 in Piazza Duomo in Milan (at 9.30-12) Father Clemente Vismara (1897-1988) will be beatified. In 1983, on the sixtieth year of his mission, the Episcopal Conference proclaimed him "Patriarch of the Burma". Born in 1897 in Agrate Brianza, he took part in the First World War, as a trench soldier, emerging from battle with the rank of sergeant and three medals for military valour. He understood that "life has value only if you give it for others" (as he wrote), and thus he became a priest and missionary of PIME in 1923 and left for Burma. Arriving in Toungoo, the last city with a British governor, he spent six months in the bishop's house to learn English, then he set off for Kengtung, an almost unexplored land of forest, mountains and inhabited by tribal people, still under the domination of a local king (sabo) sponsored by the British. After14 days of riding he arrived at Kengtung where he would remain for three-months to learn the local languages and then the superior of the mission accompanied him to Monglin reached after six days on horseback, his last destination on the border between Laos, Thailand and China.
It was October 1924 and in 32 years (in the midst of World War II, a prisoner of the Japanese), Clemente Vismara, out of nowhere, built three parishes: Monglin, Mong Phyak and Kenglap. He wrote to Agrate: "Here I am 120 kilometres from Kengtung, if I want to see another Christian I have to look in the mirror". He lives with three orphans in a mud and straw shed. His apostolate is to tour the tribal villages on horseback, to pitch his tent and make himself known: he brought medicine, pulled rotten teeth, adapted to life with the tribals, the climate, dangers, food, rice and spicy salsa, hunting for meat. From the outset he took in orphans and abandoned children in Monglin to educate them. Later he founded an orphanage that became home to between 200 to 250 orphans. Today he is invoked as the "protector of children" and a lot of the graces received concern children and families.
A life lived in conditions of extreme poverty, Clement wrote: "This is worse than when I was in the trenches on the Adamello and Monte Maio, but I wanted this war and I have to fight to the end with God's help I'm always in the hands of God. Gradually a Christian community was born, the Sisters of the Child Mary come to help, he founded schools and chapels, factories and rice fields, irrigation canals, he taught carpentry and mechanics, built brick houses and brought new crops, wheat, corn, silkworms, vegetables (carrots, onions, salad - "the father eats grass," the people would say).
Soon-to-be Blessed Clement founded the church in a corner of the world where there are no tourists, but only opium smugglers, black magicians and guerillas from different backgrounds, he brought peace and stabilised nomadic tribes within the territory who, through the schooling and health care, have raised their standards of living and now have doctors and nurses, artisans and teachers, priests and nuns, bishops and civil authorities. Many of them called Clement and Clementina.
In 1956, when he founded the Christian citadel of Monglin and converted fifty villages to faith in Christ, the bishop moved him to Mongping, 250 kilometers from Monglin in the vast diocese of Kengtung, where he had to start from scratch. Clemente wrote to his brother: "I obey the bishop because I understand that if I do things my own way then I do them wrong." At the age of sixty he began a new mission and also founded here the Christian town and parish of Mongping, a second parish in Tongtà and left another fifty Catholic villages in his wake. He died June 15, 1988 in Mongping and is buried near the church and the Grotto of Lourdes, which he built. On his grave visited by many non-Christians fresh flowers and lit candles are never lacking. Now, 23 years later, June 26, 2011, Father Clemente Vismara is to be declared blessed of the Church Universal and is the first blessed of Burma. A rapid cause for beatification, given the usually long time needed for these Roman "processes".
Why is Father Clemente Vismara being declared Blessed? In life he did not perform miracles, have visions or revelations, he was not a mystic nor a theologian, he made no great works nor had any extraordinary gifts. He was a missionary like the rest, so much so that when we discussed the opening of his beatification cause here at PIME, some of his confreres in Burma said: "If you declare him Blessed you need to declare all of us here blessed who have led the same life he did". In 1993 I went to Kengtung with two missionaries who had been with Clement in Burma and we asked the Bishop Abraham Than, "Why do you want father Clement declared blessed?". He said: "We had many PIME missionaries saints who founded diocese, including the first Bishop Erminio Bonetta, still remembered as a model of evangelical charity, and others whose memory is still alive. But none of them have sparked this devotion and this movement of people who declare them saints, like Father Vismara. In this I see a sign from God to start the diocesan process. "
As one of his brothers said: "Vismara saw the extraordinary in the ordinary." At eighty years had the same enthusiasm for his vocation as a priest and missionary, peaceful and joyful, generous to all, trusting in Providence, a man of God despite the tragic situations in which he lived. He had an adventurous and poetic vision of the missionary vocation, that made him a fascinating character through his writings, perhaps the most famous Italian missionary of the twentieth century.
His trust in Providence was proverbial. He had no budgets or estimates, he never counted the money he had. In a country where the majority of people in some months suffer from hunger, Clement gave food to all, he never turned anyone away empty-handed. The PIME brothers and Sisters of the Child Mary would reproach him for taking in too many children, old people, lepers, disabled, widows, mentally unbalanced. Clemente always said: "Today we all ate, tomorrow the Lord will provide." He trusted in Providence, but across the world he wrote to donors for support and help with articles in various magazines. He spent his evenings writing letters and articles by candlelight (I have collected over 2000 letters and 600 articles.) It must be added that the writings of Father Vismara, poetic, adventurous, inflamed with love for the poorest, have attracted many vocations to the priesthood, and religious missionaries not only in Italy.
Clement represents well the virtues and the values of the missionaries to be passed down to future generations. In the last half century, mission to the nations has dramatically changed, but always remaining to be what Jesus wants, "Go into all the world, proclaim the Gospel to every creature." But the new methods (responsibility of the local church, inculturation, interreligious dialogue, etc..) must be experienced in the spirit and continuity of the ecclesial tradition that dates back to the Apostles.
Clemente is one of the last links in this glorious Apostolic Tradition. He was in love with Jesus (he prayed a lot!) in love with his people, especially the small and the least and wrote: "These orphans are not mine, but of God and God never allows us to lack the necessary". He lived to the letter what Jesus says in the Gospel: "Do not worry too much, saying, 'What shall we eat? What shall we drink? How will we dress? '. The ones who do not know that God cares for all these things ... But if you look for the Kingdom of God and do his will, everything else God will give you and more "(Matt. 6, 31-34). Utopia? No, Clemente was a living reality, which brings joy to the heart despite all the problems he had.
I visited Burma in 1983, at 86 he was still parish priest at Mongping. I wanted to interview him about his adventures and he told me: "Forget my past I have told that story too many times. Let's talk about my future” and he spoke to me about the villages to visit, schools and chapels to be built, the requests for conversion that came from various parts. As a confrere said: "He died at 91 without ever being old." He had kept the enthusiasm of the early days of his mission.
Father Clemente Vismara is one of about 200 PIME missionaries who since from 1867 until the present have been based in north-eastern Burma in six of the 14 dioceses in Myanmar: Toungoo, Kengtung, Taunggyi, Lashio, Loikaw and Pekong, with about 300 thousand baptized, indigenous bishops, priests and nuns, more than half of Catholics in Burma. Clemente is one of many who, all together, are a good example of the missionary tradition and spirit of the PIME, that continues to assist the Church of Myanmar in various ways, among other things, in taking on their missionary vocations, training them and sending them into the institution's community present on every continent to proclaim Christ and found the church in other nations.
* To find out more and get to know Blessed Clemente Vismara
- The biography "Prima del sole” (Emi pagg. 224, 10 Euro): Clement would rise early and went up the hill to see the sun rise. He wrote: "When I see the sun appear, I understand that God has not forsaken me."
- "Clemente Vismara il santo dei bambini” (Emi, pagg. 158, 10 Euro), a selection of 45 articles on his children and the children who lived with him, with a study on "How Father Clement educated his children."
- "Lettere dalla Birmania” (San Paolo, pagg. 238, Euro 12), a selection of his letters from Burma.
- “Positio”, the monumental biography of Clemente for the Congregation of Saints, with the testimonies from the canonical process of beatification, letters and writings of Vismara and, various documents. Volume of 610 A4 pages plus photographic plates, $ 50.
- “Clemente racconta…” , tri-monthly journal on Blessed Clemente edited by Agrate missionary group sent free of charged on request.
For further information contact Rita Gervasoni, Italy Via Giovine, 16 - 20041 Agrate Brianza (MB). Tel 039 652 207 - Email: email@example.com Or Father Piero Gheddo, PIME, Via Monterosa, 81 - 20149 Milano. Tel 02.43.82.04.18 - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org