09/04/2013, 00.00
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From businessman to first priest of Bhutan, thanks to the encounter with Mother Teresa

by P. Kinley Tshering sj
Fr. Kinley Tshering SJ tells his story to AsiaNews. Born into a devout Buddhist family, the priest converted to Catholicism as a child, but it will take years before accepting his vocation to the consecrated life. Fundamental figure of Mother Teresa, whom he met by chance on a plane during one of his business trips.

Darjeeling (AsiaNews) - Discover the vocation to the priesthood on board a plane, sitting next to Mother Teresa of Calcutta: is the story of Fr. Kinley Tshering SJ, the only Catholic priest Bhutanese. Born into a devout Buddhist family, as a young man studying to become an entrepreneur, but secretly converts and cultivates within himself his love for Christ. A faith suffered, as he himself tells AsiaNews: "I felt a restlessness inside of me, I had always wanted - and I felt called - to consecrate my life to Christ as a priest. Though my professional, family pressures and my same style of life helped me to make a final decision." It will be a causal encounter with the Blessed, in 1986, to convince him to accept what he feels inside. "You have a vocation - Mother Teresa told him -, be generous with God and He will be generous with you." Following is the story of the conversion of p. Tshering. Translation by AsiaNews.

It was in 1986 and I was returning from Hyderabad after attending a Bottlers Conference. I had finished my MBA from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore (the best B Schools in India-)   in marketing and was taking care of a Parle Franchise in Bhutan for three years. I had converted to Catholicism in 1974 as a school boy in class 9 at St. Joseph's School, North Point, Darjeeling, one of the best boarding schools in India. After my schooling in Darjeeling,  I studied my pre university at  St. Joseph's College, Bangalore and pursued my Degree Education at  St. Xavier's College, Mumbai for my graduation. I went back to Bangalore to complete my Post Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) at Indian Institute of Management (IIM).

For two years, I received the sacraments  in secrecy. Today, thanks to the magnanimity of our fourth King who gave us a  democratic Constitution, people have  the freedom of conscience and therefore  the right to practice any religion. Before the advent of the new Constitution, the few Catholics who were here were too frightened to attend any religious service. Today we are permitted to have Mass and other liturgical services.

From 1974, there was a restlessness within me, I had always a desire- and felt called-  to be consecrate my life to Christ as a priest. However with my professional studies here and there, family pressures and my own personal life style did not help me to make a decisive decision. The many priests I had as my spiritual fathers always encouraged me to wait and one even suggested that I get married since I was the only Catholic from Bhutan so that the Church could grow there. However, since I had that lurking desire to be a priest, I began pray to God to give me a sign. I remember praying that you don't have to give me a sign like to Teresa of  the Child Jesus by giving snow in summer, but a decent sign so that I have no doubt.

On that Sunday morning when the Church bell ran in Hyderbad, I went to Mass as it was close to the hotel. I prayed at Mass for a sign. In the evening flight to Kolkata I was looking forward to meeting a girl friend but the plane was delayed slightly for VIP movement. I was slightly annoyed at this  delay but my mood changed instantly when I saw Mother Teresa enter and sit right next to me in the front aisle. My heart was pounding and  I held my breathe ! The plane took off and Mother did not even say a word to me or acknowledge me. She was deep in prayer and to what seemed like an eternity, she turned to me and asked where I was from.

I told her from Darjeeling and she was delighted and recounted to me her days at Loreto, Darjeeling. When I told her actually I am from Bhutan and that I am a Catholic, she was very curious. I told her that I am a convert and before long I was pouring out the angst of my heart to her. My desire to be a priest but all the temptations that I was having. She took my hand and said: "I have not told this to many people, but I am telling you. You have a vocation and be generous to God, and He will be generous to you." My eyes were filled with tears and I cried all the way to Calcutta filled with joy. I asked God for a miracle to affirm my vocation,  God sent me an angel, just like to Mother Mary. I had nothing else to say but "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it done to me according to your word."

My beloved mother came to leave me at the Jesuit novitiate at Mount Carmel at Kurseong. Her tremendous love for me allowed her to forget the paradox and irony of the moment. A Buddhist mother allowing  her son to be a Catholic monk! It was unthinkable at that time. She swallowed all her tears and bravely left me at the Jesuit novitiate. I was so happy to join the novitiate that I did not realize her pain and anguish. When she left I was so relieved and got down seriously to being a novice. My peace was short-lived. In the evening she returned and begged me to come back home and forget this madness. I begged her to give me two weeks for the first probation and if I then did not like what I was doing she was welcome to return and take me back home.

My mother's love for me gave her the strength to agree and turn back. Two weeks later she was again at the novitiate and finding me so happy, she went back and sent me a message: "Be a good monk and never turn back on your decision". Nine years later she was at my ordination and was beaming with joy and smiling, while my sisters were crying. I remember what she told the people at that ordination. "Nine years ago I finished shedding all my tears and now I rejoice with my son, for he will now serve humankind." My father, a devout Buddhist, did not attend my ordination, but has respected my choices.

After my ordination, I went to Calcutta to meet Mother Teresa. The first thing she said to me was, " I have been praying for you for the last ten years."

My mother's advice to me at that time was: Be a good monk (priest) and do not forget the people, especially the poor.

My mother is not a theologian, but I realize that what she taught me as a child are the Christian virtues I cherish as an adult. A Buddhist mother has helped a Jesuit priest to be proud of his vocation, in humble service of the poor, never forgetting that life is passing and impermanent and what is real is the relentless search for Buddhahood, to be free from all inordinate attachments in our Ignatian vision.


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