By Gabriele Monaco
This year’s new PIME Missionaries – some will be ordained on Saturday June 12th in the Milan Cathedral with the rest in their own dioceses – they come from Africa, South America, and Asia. Two of these new missionaries are originally from Myanmar and are destined for China. They tell us their stories as they await their departure.
PIME’s openness to the internationality of its members has allowed young men from all over the world to join the Institute for Foreign Missions which for years. It is fully manifested in this year’s new PIME Priests; all of them grew up in families that passed on the faith to them in the missions. They are an emblem of evangelization; going out to tell the Good News where no one has ever done it, so that it may make the proclamation flourish from those places as well.
The seven new PIME Missionaries come from the Ivory Coast, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, and Brazil. The Burmese, the Brazilian, and one of the two Indians will be ordained on June 12th in Milan. Jean-Jacques will receive the sacrament on the 26th in the Ivory Coast, and the others during the summer in their dioceses of origin. Their destinations are by no means easy. Between important responsibilities and newly established missions, they will have to face great challenges from the very first days.
The most emblematic case is certainly that of Ba Oo and San Li, both originally from Myanmar and destined for Taiwan to study Mandarin before being able to go to China, a mission in a very delicate context, just as in their country of origin currently. “After the coup in Myanmar, the situation is serious,” Ba Oo says. “Neither the protesters nor the military will ever surrender, so it is hard to see how things will go. We are living in this period of so much anger about these injustices and so much concern for our country and its future. The two of us are lucky, also because, from Italy, it is easier to get visas to Taiwan, but we will certainly not be able to go back home to see our families. Many of the things we wanted to do have had to be put on hold because of this situation. There is no certainty about how our mission in Taiwan and then Hong Kong and China will go.”
Thirty-one-year-old Ba Oo is from Eastern Myanmar, an area where PIME has had a presence since the late 1800s. “I only knew those priests as ‘the missionaries’ and had never spoken to them. I had already chosen to become a priest and had attended the diocesan seminary for eight years when I met them again, they were holding spirituality courses.”
At those classes, Ba Oo also met St. Li, his peer, who himself entered the seminary at a very young age but came from Northern Myanmar. “Talking with the PIME Missionaries face to face, I began to reflect on the signs of all they had done in my land. I wanted to be like them,” Ba Oo recounts. “Together with San Li, we did a year of missionary experience in Cambodia, and our desire became stronger when we saw how PIME works.” Both will be ordained June 12th in Milan, before leaving for Taiwan.
Santhosh and Bhaskar, from India, and are also of the same age, walking the same road together. Bhaskar is from the state of Telangana, where PIME has been working for years. “My parents and grandparents used to tell me about the missionaries,” he explains. “They called them the ‘white priests’ and I always had a very positive image of them. When I chose to enter the seminary I was already determined to become like them, and I went to a vocational camp organized by PIME.” It was here that he met Santhosh, who came from Andhra Pradesh.
“When I went to my parish priest to tell him that I wanted to become a priest, he told me that it couldn’t be done because the diocesan seminary had closed,” Santosh says. “Luckily, I found that vocational camp in Eluru. Of the more than one hundred candidates present, only Bhaskar and I were chosen.” The two then began their journey in the Institute. Now Bhaskar will return to India, where he will be the Vice-Rector of the minor seminary in Eluru. “It is a great responsibility because I will be the first missionary Vice-Rector. It is a choice made in order to give seminarians a more proclamation-oriented formation from their earliest years. Santhosh, on the other hand, will be the first Indian PIME Priest to go to the mission in Chad. Before leaving, he will spend at least one year studying French with his companion, Eder.
Born and raised in close contact with Italian missionaries in Sertanópolis, in Southern Brazil, Eder believed that all priests were missionaries. After an experience in the seminary, he decided to leave it all behind and begin a life like that of all nineteen-year-olds: college, work, and playing in a band. After ten years his vocation came back, this time for good. After a year of studying French, Eder will go into the field, in the Ivory Coast.
The same will happen to Dominic, destined for Japan. Originally from Khulna, Bangladesh, he met PIME in his parish. “While I was studying in Dhaka, I kept in touch with Fr. Franco Cagnasso, who eventually proposed a community experience in the parish,” he says. “During vacations I would go to the north of the country to see how PIME works, and eventually I decided to join the Institute.” For him, too, the years of study are not over. It will take at least two years to learn Japanese in Tokyo, but he can already begin to be a missionary.
This is not the case for Jean-Jacques, an Ivorian, who is destined to be the Vice-Rector of the Yaoundé Seminary in Cameroon. He got to know PIME as a child. “The way missionaries did things was very different from that of other priests, so when I began my discernment I asked to meet PIME again,” the new missionary priest reveals. “I continued to watch closely while studying, I also did a pastoral experience in the North of the country. In the end, I chose to continue my studies at the Seminary Institute in Yaoundé, where I will return as Vice-Rector. Honestly, I had hoped to go into the field, but I welcome this service with such a sense of responsibility, because I know how important it is. Training to become a missionary is difficult, especially when you have to study in a language that is not your own. The support of those who accompanied and guided us was fundamental and I would really like to thank everyone, from the professors who supported us to those who prayed for us from afar.”