Planting the Seed

La Salette statue from Angola
In this time when we have just celebrated the 75th anniversary of our ministry in Myanmar (Burma), we reflect on the missionary challenges there and elsewhere. 
To be a La Salette Missionary serving in other lands brings with it definite challenges and sacrifices. We need only think of our ministry in Burma (Myanmar) during WWII when all La Salette Missionaries refused to leave their people and as a consequence were captured, tortured and imprisoned in Japanese concentration camps. 
Or in Angola – even when other Religious Congregations voluntarily exited when the war for independence erupted, we La Salette Missionaries stayed to minister to the people at the supreme cost of the lives of La Salette Frs. Emil Frick (1938-1988) and Leandre Volken (1940-1983) along with the novitiate class of 1983. 
Or in Argentina – during the military dictatorship of the 1970s when Fr. Jim Weeks, M.S., and the whole novitiate class – there were four from Argentina and one from Chile – were accused of being terrorists, arrested, beaten, held incommunicado, tortured and imprisoned. All this was because they dared preach the Gospel to the poor and minister to them. 
Past Philippines President
Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989)
Or in the Philippines – during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos (Philippine President from 1965-1986) when Fr. Jose Nacu, M.S., was imprisoned as he championed freedom for his people. 
Continuing to minister in Myanmar will indeed entail hardship for our young and zealous La Salette Missionaries.

Myanmar’s Special Challenges

Bordered by India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Laos and China, waves of divergent cultures, languages and peoples flowed through the territory we now call Myanmar. Even today the Myanmar people reflect that mixture – 40% of the population are considered to be ethnic minorities.
British rule began in 1885 when Burma became a province of the Indian Empire. In 1938 it became a separate – but not independent – country, still ruled by the British. That ended temporarily when Japan invaded the territory in 1942 and granted the Burmese provisional independence. The British, however, returned after the war to rule until 1948 when the Burmese reclaimed their independence. With little or no adequate preparation for national independence, a long period of chaotic unrest ensued.
Gen. Than Shwe ruled
Burma from 1992 to 2010
In 1962 the military seized control of much of the country. But fighting and resistance did not end there – indeed we still see vestiges of it today, especially in the border regions. A military junta began ruling in 1988. Seeking absolute control, this military junta misruled the country these last 24 years. Efforts to inaugurate a democratic government through free elections in 1990 simply resulted in the military junta locking up political opponents and continuing to rule the country. It was one of the worst military dictatorship in the world, second only to North Korea. 
Because of natural gas production in Myanmar, the past military – some 380,000 strong – had money to buy the weapons necessary to keep efforts toward democracy at bay. National pride, however, is strong. That same national pride led to the independence movements of the 1940’s. Political, social and economic unrest fueled popular tension and distrust of the government. 

Buddhism – Their National Religion

Burmese monks protest anti-Buddhist
unrest in Yangon in October, 2012
An added hardship for our Missionaries comes from Buddhism being the national religion – Buddhists make up over 90% of the population. In 1962 the Prime Minister, in accord with Buddhist principles, had forbidden the slaughter of all animals for food! Being a non-Buddhist citizen carries a stigma of discrimination, of not being able to hold public office, of being part of a non-influential minority. But even being a Buddhist does not assure freedom and liberty. 
Aung San Suu Kyi –
the peaceful freedom fighter
Many monks are leaders for democracy in their country. Monasteries that oppose the military regime are under surveillance and many have had their subsidies cut off. Some 300 monks, because of their protests and efforts to improve the living conditions of the people, their educational opportunities, their financial stability, their infrastructure of health facilities, were imprisoned. 
Thankfully the present leaders of Myanmar are showing signs of lessening their tight grip on their people. The recent election of Aung San Suu Kyi – the peaceful freedom fighter – to Myanmar's parliament caps a remarkable turn- about for the pro-democracy campaigner, who was kept under house arrest for a total of 15 years by the country's military junta. The recent visit of U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and President Obama certainly indicate that the U.S. government sees concrete signs of hope and promised to aid their nation if they continue making steps toward an increase of freedom for their people.

The Grain of Wheat

The saying, “All in the Lord’s good time” comes to mind. In early November 2012, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the La Salette Missionaries in Myanmar (then Burma). During the last 20 years 15 grains, taken like seedlings from the native Burmese soil, were nurtured in the Philippines, and, beginning in 2005, most were transplanted back onto native soil where they have been hard at work. As a result, on November 8th seven young Burmese professed their first vows as La Salette Missionaries. Those seven grains, sown into native Burmese ground, nurtured silently in the fertile soil of the Burmese hearts and souls, have produced their first fruit on native soil. Other grains wait in the basket of life to be sown. Today, with 20 La Salette Missionaries working, praying, studying, teaching, living, and witnessing to the Gospel among a predominantly Buddhist population, we realize that, although we plant and water, God alone gives the increase. 
Our Missionaries will undoubtedly join in the quest for greater freedom in Myanmar and elsewhere, being of one mind and heart with their struggling people as they seek full liberty, which St. Paul calls “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Let us keep these La Salette Missionaries in our prayers.  
Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). All of the 24 La Salette Missionaries who ministered in Burma from 1938 to 1976 – some for only a year or two and others for as many as thirty-nine years, with a combined total of a 365 years of presence – have died in the service of the Kingdom of God. But today there are already 20 native Myanmar citizens who have stepped forward to take their place.  
Yes, the grain that fell into the ground has produced much fruit!
La Salette facsimile in a Buddhist setting in our
shrine in Chanthagone, near Mandalay, Myanmar

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