Columban General Councilors Visit Myanmar
by Fr Patrick Colgan
A song celebrating the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Columbans in Banmaw (Bhamo) and the 50th anniversary of the building of St Patrick's, now the cathedral of the Diocese of Banmaw.
The author was elected to the General Council of the Columbans in 2012. This photo was taken just after their election. L to R: Fr Arturo Aguilar, Vicar General (USA, ordained 1984, Regional Director in the USA when elected and served before in Chile), Fr Patrick Colgan (Ireland, ordained in 1994, serving in Fiji when elected), Fr Kevin O'Neill, Superior General (Australia, ordained in 1992, served in China when elected), and Fr Darwin Bayaca (Gingoog City, Misamis Occidental, Philippines, ordained 2005, Vice Director and Rector of Formation in the Philippines when elected, served in China before).
During the second half of a hot June, Fr Pat Colgan and Fr Darwin Bayaca, both members of the General Council of the Missionary Society of St Columban in Hong Kong, visited Myanmar; the Society is reengaging with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, in multiple ways at this time:
a. The Society accepted three young men as seminarian candidates, to join our Program in Manila later this year. They are currently living in a simple bamboo 'Columban Accompaniment' house in Mandalay, following a program of prayer, studies and pastoral outreach with Fr Neil Magill.
b. The Society is in the process of assigning a small team of newly ordained priests, which we hope will be matched with a team of Lay Missionaries, to the country in 2015, initially to learn Burmese, the official language of Myanmar, and the cultures of the country in Yangon, to be followed by ministry in the Kachin area in the north where Columban priests worked between 1936 and 1977. Korean Columban Fr Carlo Jung Euikyun, ordained on 3 May and who spent two years on First Mission Assignment in Fiji as a seminarian will be among those going to Myanmar.
c. The Society continues to support Fr Neil Magill's wonderful Higher Education Centre, which provides a three-year education that includes English, Information Technology (IT), Human Rights, Spirituality, World Religions, Ecology, Leadership, and now recognized at Diploma level by La Salle University, Manila, for over a hundred of the poorest but brightest young people of northern Myanmar.
d. The Society, under the auspices of the Australian government-registered ‘Columban Overseas Aid Fund’ supports a very large Rural Education infrastructure of schools, teachers, boarding houses and livelihood preservation, in the dioceses of Myitkyina and Banmaw in Kachin State. Many of the children being educated are refugees from the renewed fighting between the Army of Myanmar and Kachin Independence forces.
Fathers Pat and Darwin were able to visit and have discussions with local partners about the four areas above. We ask your support and prayers that these initiatives will bear fruit.
Columbans in Burma/Myanmar
The first group of Columban priests, led by Fr Patrick Usher, went to Burma in October 1936 to the Kachin State, the northernmost state in the country. Monsignor Usher became Prefect Apostolic in 1939 of the then new Prefecture of Bhamo, which covered most of the Kachin State. This area had been under the care of the Paris Foreign Missionaries for many years. He died suddenly on 13 October 1958. Fr John Howe, who had gone to Burma in 1937, succeeded Monsignor Usher as Prefect Apostolic and then became first Bishop of Myitkyina [‘MITCH-in-awe’] when the prefecture was made into a diocese in 1961. Bhamo and Myitkyina, 130 kms apart, are the two main centers of population in the area.
On 3 April 1976 Fr Paul Zingtung Grawng, a priest of the diocese, was ordained as auxiliary bishop and on 9 December that year succeeded Bishop Howe. Bishop Grawng became Archbishop of Mandalay in 2003 and retired earlier this year.
On 28 August 2006 the new Diocese of Banmaw (Bhamo) was created, with territory taken from Myitkyina. St Columban is the patron of the cathedral in Myitkyina and St Patrick of that in Banmaw.
The Columban Sisters first went to Burma in 1947 but had to leave in 1966, as did most of the Columban priests, because of government policy. The Sisters were able to return in 2003.
A small group of Columban Lay Missionaries worked in the Diocese of Banmaw from 2009 to 2012 and it is planned to send more to Myanmar in the near future.
In 2011 the Catholics of the area celebrated the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Columbans. In the video above there are shots of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Banmaw. The song was written and sung by Sr Teresa Nyangh Pi FMM. Other videos made on the occasion of the Jubilee and which include group photos of Columban priests who worked in the area are here, here and here.
Despite the many years when Columbans who had served there couldn’t even visit Myanmar very close ties remained and still remain. In November 2009 Bishop Michael Smith of Meath, the diocese in Ireland where the Irish headquarters of the Columbans are situated, visited Banmaw. People in the Diocese of Meath have been giving support to the Diocese of Banmaw. In the video below Bishop Smith refers to the special significance of St Patrick, the patron saint of the Diocese of Banmaw and its cathedral, for his diocese.
You can find more videos connected with the celebration by googling ‘Banmaw, Jubali’ on YouTube.