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Missionaries

THE FIRST GROUP OF BARNABITES (1743)

Bishop Gallizia returned to Burma from Rome after his episcopal consecration with three other learned priests for the mission in Burma: Frs. Paul Marie Nerini, Alexander Mondelli and John del Conte.  They were accompanied by an experienced surgeon Br. Angelo Cappello. After barely two years, the Peguans, suspecting that the people of Syriam favoured the Burmese, made a plot and massacred several people including Bishop Gallizia, Fr. Mondelli and Fr. John del Conte. Fr. Nerini and Br. Angelo somehow escaped this tragedy.

 


SECOND GROUP OF BARNABITES (1754)

Pope Benedict XIV elected Fr. Nerini as Bishop of Priense and Vicar Apostolic of the two kingdoms of Ava and Pegu. Four new missionaries were sent out for the work. They were Frs. Vincent Casanova, Leo Lindermann, Armadeo Gazzei and Hermingild Quardrio. They all belonged to the Barnabite order. They set out from Paris in two different ships which never arrived in Burma. The first sank in the Atlantic and the other in the Gulf of Martaban. In the war between the Talaings and the Burmese under the leadership of King Alaungpaya of Shwebo, Fr. Nerini was suspected of French ties and was beheaded. Br. Angelo too was killed by a canon ball during the siege.


THIRD GROUP OF BARNABITES (1760)

Following these looses three more Barnabites were sent out: Frs. John Mary Percotto, Sebastian Donati and Pio Gallizia. Fr. Donati and Fr. Gallizia arrived on the 8th June 1760. Fr. Donati left for Ava but died on 20th January 1761 at Chaung U.

Pope Clement XIII recommended the two Barnabites, Frs. Avenati and Percotto, to the Bishop of Mylapore (Madras) India, to help the mission in Burma. These two arrived in Rangoon in October 1761. Fr. Avenati remained in the south and Fr. Percotto went joined Fr. Gallizia in Chaung U, Ava. What Fr. Precotto found out was the amazing existence of several Catholics preserving the Faith they had received some 150 years ago, since the fall of Syriam.

Fr. Gallizia died in 1763 at Shwebo. In the same year Fr. Avenati died in Rangoon while celebrating Holy Mass on Easter Sunday. These deaths left Fr. Percotto alone in his missionary apostolate. Fr. Percotto, despite his heavy schedule and responsibility, found time to write various works in Burmese; catechism books, Mass books, translation of the Gospels and the Epistles. This is just to mention a few of his multiple works.


FOURTH GROUP OF BARNABITES (1767)

Rome sent out another batch of missionaries in 1767 Frs. Gherardo Cortenovis, Melchior Carpani, Antonio Filiberto Re and Ambrose Miconi. Rome appointed Fr. Percotto as Bishop.  He was  consecrated bishop on 31st January,
1768.  On account of the influence of a Frenchman, Chevalier Millard, and his band of Christian soldiers in the court, Bishop Percotto received many favors from the King. In 1772 two more missionaries; Frs. Marcello Cortenovis and Gaetano Montegazza arrived in Burma.  The latter became a scholar in Burmese and Pali.  Bishop Percotto died on 12th December 1776 at the age of 47. Fr. Gherardo Cortenovis succeeded Bishop Percotto as Bishop. At this time there was a new King on the throne of Ava who made it difficult for the Christians to practice their faith. Bishop Gherardo left for Rome, never to return to Burma. He died in Mylapore, Madras.

Bishop Montegazza was appointed Bishop of Ava and more missionaries were sent to help the mission in Burma. Gradually the presence of the Barnabite Missionaries dwindled. The first group was led by Msgr. Frederick Cao with two other priests, Frs. Tarolli and Ricca. By 1837, many of these missionaries served in Burma. Moulmein and Bassein became the headquarters for their mission activities. Bishop Frederick Cao returned to Italy with a local student, Moses Nga U, to study in the college of Propaganda Fide and later on was ordained a priest. Bishop Ceretti (1842-48) was appointed as Bishop.


THE OBLATES IN BURMA (1839-1891)

The arrival of the Oblates revived once again the faith in the kingdom of Ava. Old villages like Monhla, Chanthaywa, Chaung U, Amarapura, Nabeck received close attention by young and energetic priests. He brought in the Sisters of St. Joseph (SJA) to begin their work in Moulmein, Mon Stat, in 1847. These were the first Sisters to serve in Burma. When the British-Burmese war began in 1852, things were becoming very difficult for the Oblates both in Italy and also in Burma. Therefore, Bishop Balma (1848-56), the superior in-charge at that time, sought the help of another missionary society to continue the work.


FOREIGN MISSIONARIES OF PARIS (MEP) (1856-1966)

The Foreign Missions of Paris Society accepted this proposal and Bishop Paul Bigandet arrived in 1856. After having toured the whole country and practically visiting all the old and new catholic villages, he fixed his headquarters at Rangoon in St. John’s Church. During his time, Rangoon developed fast, becoming a great port and a booming city. The extent of activities done by Bishop Bigandet for Burma will always remain a legend. His literary works, his tours including his trip to Yunan, China, his personal contacts with the kings and civil authorities, his new foundations and Church constructions are amazing. A man of his caliber will not be so easily found even in our present times. This is what the influential London Times wrote when Bishop Bigandet passed away in 1894 at the age of 81. “He was both a predominant religious influence and a commanding intellectual power." At his death, there were 35,000 Catholics in Burma. In 1858, De La Salle Brothers arrived in Mawlamyine to take care of boys' education.

By now, as a result of the undauntable courage and effort of so many zealous foreign missionaries, the Catholic Church in Burma has taken strong roots and established herself firmly in the various parts of the country. The diocese of Rangoon, Mandalay, and Taungoo were already well established by the end of the 19th century.  In Mandalay, great men like Bishop Bourdon, Bishop Usse, Bishop Foulquier and Bishop Faliere did much to spearhead the work of missionary activities in new territories.


ARRIVAL OF P.I.M.E & OTHER GROUPS OF MISSIONARIES

In Taungoo with the arrival of the first PIME Fathers in 1868, under the leadership of Fr. Biffi, missionary activities developed fast.

Taungoo was made a Prefecture Apostolic in 1870 and Fr. Biffi was appointed as its first Prefect Apostolic.  Bishop Sagrada and Bishop Lanfranconi were great men who gave their very best in bringing the Good News of the Kingdom to the hill tribes of Taungoo.

The Second World War (1939-1945) wrought great disasters in Burma. Churches were bombed, foreign priests were deported, people were forced to flee to distant places and in several places priests, sisters and lay people were ruthlessly murdered. In 1945, when the war was over, the Catholic Church had a difficult time reconstructing churches, schools and parishes.

On January 1, 1955, Archbishop Martin Lucas (SVD), Internuncio to India and Apostolic Delegate to Burma, established the Archdioceses of Rangoon and Mandalay, Taungoo. Bassein and Akyab were  suffragans of
Rangoon.

At this time the Salesians of St. John Bosco, who had arrived Burma in 1939 to take care of the parish and the orphanage of St. Joseph in Mandalay entrusted to them by Fr. Louis Lafon, extended their pastoral and educational activities to the parish of Thingangyun, Rangoon. Columbans arrived at Bhamaw and Myitkyina in 1936. In 1940, the La Salette Fathers arrived in Pyay. Bishop Thomas Newman was consecrated in 1961.


INDIGENOUS HIERARCHY & BISHOPS

In 1954, Msgr. Joseph U Win was the first of the local clergy to be raised to the Order of Episcopacy as Auxiliary Bishop of Mandalay. Msgr. George U Kyaw followed as the new Bishop of Pathein in 1955.

In 1957, during the first national Eucharistic Congress held in Rangoon to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Bishop Paul Bigandet in 1856, His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India and Papal Legate to the Eucharistic Congress, laid the foundation stone of the Catholic Major Seminary on February 4, 1956 in the presence of Bishops of Burma, large number of priests, religious and people of Burma. Jesuits from the New York Province of the United States arrived that same year to take charge of the Seminary. Regular classes began soon with 8 students from the dioceses in the country. Before then, major seminarians from Burma had to study in other countries. In 1961, Msgr. Sebastian U Shwe Yauk became the Bishop of the newly erected Diocese of Taungoo.

In 1962, the government became socialist. All schools and major businesses were nationalized between 1962 and 1966. Foreign missionaries including 232 Catholic priests and religious were forced to leave the country; only those who had come to Burma before the country's independence from England (January 4, 1948) were allowed to stay on condition that they were not in charge of any educaion or health institution. If those would leave the country for any reason, they would not be permitted to return. The Burmese major seminary had ordained just one or two classes by that time. So the new faculty relied mostly on the availabe local priests.

From then onwards the indigenous priests and religious took up the responsibility of the Church in Burma. At the time of the hand over there were altogether two Archdioceses and six suffragan dioceses with about 120 priests
and 350,000 Catholic populations. Travel to and from Burma was not allowed. Communications with other countries was prohibited; books and magazines from outside the country were not allowed. Thes changes happened just before the Vatican Council II, thus blocking information regarding major changes in the Church' understanding of itself and the world. Also, all Church owned schools and hospitals were nationalized by the government. In 1965 Msgr. Gabriel Thohey Mahn-Gaby became the Auxiliary Bishop of Yangon.

The Catholic Church in Myanmar celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of the local hierarchy with the First National Pastoral Assembly from 24 - 27 November, 2005. It is gradually gaining momentum in its work of Evangelization. It is to be noted that the Church's activities are on the pastoral and social concern with very limited access.




RECENT UPDATE:

The Union of Myanmar covers an area of 677,000 square kilometers (261,228 square miles) ranging 936 kilometers (581 miles) from east to west and 2,051 kilometers (1,275 miles) from north to south, It is a land of hills and valleys and is rimmed in the north, east and west by mountain ranges forming a giant horseshoe. Enclosed within the mountaion barriers are the flat lands of Ayeyarwaddy, Chindwin and Sittaung River valleys where most of the country’s agricultural land and population are concentrated.
( http://www.mofa.gov.mm/aboutmyanmar/geography.html )

The country is made up of 135 national races, of which the main national races are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. Population of the country is estimated at 52.4 million (July, 2003) and the population growth rate is 1.84 percent. (http://www.mofa.gov.mm/aboutmyanmar/population.html)

The main religions of the country are Theravada Buddhism 89.2%, Christianity 5.0%, Islam 3.5%, Hinduism 0.5%, Spiritualism 1.2%, and others 0.2%. (http://www.mofa.gov.mm/aboutmyanmar/religion.html)

There are now 16 Archdioceses and dioceses with 18 active Bishops and 5 retired bishops - all from Myanmar. Catholics remain a minority with the estimated numbers of 698,689 Diocesan & Religious Priests 937, Religious (Women & Men) 1615, Catechists 2818.. (Dec. 1/2013).

 Most of the dioceses are very extensive; most have extensive jungle and mountainous areas with extremely poor transportation and practically non-existent telephone or internet communications, except for city areas. In most rural parishes, it might take the priest from several hours to 2 to 5 days to reach some of the villages.

Almost all dioceses have trained adult catechists who are responsible for the instruction of the faithful in the villages. In most dioceses, the catechetical training is a 2 year program for those who have finished high school, and 3 years for those who have had only primary or middle school background.