ASIA/MYANMAR - Women and consecrated women, alongside the poor for a hundred years

Wednesday, 8 March 2023 nuns   women   consecrated life   poverty   mission   evangelization  

Mandalay (Agenzia Fides) - For a hundred years the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary have been present in Myanmar, proclaiming the Gospel with word, life and deeds, always and in all cases close to the people, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable. They are still today, amidst the dangers and devastation of the civil war, even when they risk their lives. Just over a month ago, on January 15, the Burmese army set fire to the ancient Catholic church of the Assumption, built in 1894 in Chan Thar, a Catholic village in the Archdiocese of Mandalay (north-eastern Myanmar), as well as the adjoining convent of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM), who were forced to flee with some 3,000 villagers. Although saddened by the destruction of the sacred building and their home, the nuns noted that "miraculously the chapel of adoration of the church was not touched by the flames", saying that "even in this brutal and senseless violence, the Lord is always with us".
The spirit of consecrated women is always to "live by faith, in the company of Jesus, in joy and sorrow, remaining close to
the people". It was 1819 that the first Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary set foot on Burmese soil and began caring for lepers in Mandalay. The priests of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP)
asked them for help for educational and social works (health care, care for lepers and poor children). The first six FMM Sisters officially settled in what was then Burma on February 11, 1923, opening the first small convent of Ave Maria in Prang Hkudung, in the diocese of Banmaw, in Kachin state, in northern Myanmar.
They soon opened an orphanage for 300 children, a textile center for young girls, and other works. Engaged in inaccessible areas, "the life and apostolic work of the pioneers was really tiring, yet they were happy to accomplish their mission", they say today.
The hundred-year missionary journey was marked by trials and obstacles: with the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1942 all the men and women missionaries were arrested and detained in the prisons of Banmaw and Mandalay. But, after the war, Mother Francisca and four other nuns resumed their work in Hkudung. Another critical moment was the civil war of 1962-63, during which the sisters had to endure difficulties and hardships and when, in 1966, all foreign missionaries were expelled from Myanmar.
Despite all the difficulties, and above all because of their great love for the Burmese people, the mission of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary has continued until today, when the sisters - now rooted in the country, where they reside in about twenty convents - offer comfort and concrete support to displaced persons, victims of the civil conflict, and take care of the marginalized, the handicapped and the sick.
In difficult conditions and poverty, the FMM sisters celebrated their 100 years of service in the parish of Prang Hkudung: on February 11, alongside Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of the Diocese of Banmaw, priests, religious and more of 1500 faithful participated in the thanksgiving mass of the centenary jubilee, in the church of the Immaculate Conception. Just a year ago, thanks to the presence of new Burmese religious, a new convent of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary was opened in the village of Htang Nya, an isolated region on the border with China, also in the diocese from Banmaw. The pastoral and missionary work of the consecrated sisters, always entrusted to the Lord, continues. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 8/3/2023)