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By C. M. Paul
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Kolkata, Mar. 13. ROME, 13 March -- The General Chapter (GC26) may endorse the request of the vice province of Myanmar (estd. 2004) to pull out of the South Asia region and join the East Asia and Oceania region. The reasons they say, ''Myanmar is in the political area of East Asia and is a member of the ASEAN. It is, therefore, easier to travel to those countries. Culturally and politically it is similar to the countries of East Asia.'' For about 70 years Myanmar was part of the South Asia region and part of Kolkata province. There are 73 Salesians (32 temporarily professed, 27 priests, 1 Brother) and 13 novices. Salesian Bishop Charles Bo is bishop of Yangoon.
The Country and the People
Burma, officially the Union of Myanmar is the largest country by geographical area in mainland Southeast Asia. It is the 40th-territorially largest country in the world, (after Zambia). It is somewhat smaller than the US state of Texas and slightly larger than Afghanistan.  The country achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 4 January 1948, as the ''Union of Burma.'' It became the ''Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma'' on 4 January 1974. It is bordered by China on the north, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, and India on the northwest, with the Bay of Bengal to the southwest. A strict military regime governs about 53 million people belonging to, 153 tribes,

The Church in Myanmar
The arrival of Christianity in Myanmar dates back to the early 16th and 17th centuries. Portuguese merchants were the first Europeans to arrive and they settled down in Syriam near Yangon in 1600, where they set up a flourishing Christian community. In 1611 they were attacked by the Burmese, and were taken to the north as prisoners. Some were made to serve in the royal palace. Later on, the king, fearing a rebellion, had them scattered in villages, and thus there arose Christian villages. It is indeed surprising that these villages have remained staunchly Catholic. Even to this day they are the sources and centres of religious belief and vocations.
The army leaders today openly favor Buddhism, and privileges are heaped on Buddhists. Not only that; there have been instances of the Catholic Church coming under pressure and being persecuted. Prudence advises us not to air grievances openly.  

The Salesians History in Myanmar
Where Don Bosco wanted to go as a missionary in 1842 (MB vol.II Chapter 22 English edition pg. 160f.) his sons started work about 100 years later, in Mandalay the second capital (the palace city of the last Burmese dynasty). Under the leadership of Fr Antonio Alessi, Salesians ran a school and an orphanage for 112 boys.
In 1965, the Socialist government nationalized - without compensation - all our schools, technical institutes and professional training centres in the two major cities, Rangoon and Mandalay. Two Salesian parishes (Rangoon and Mandalay) were returned to diocesan jurisdiction.
When all foreign missionaries were expelled from the country in 1966, all the Italian Salesians (except two) were repatriated and the frustrated native Salesians were left with nothing but a bleak future.
Ten years later, the Holy See (1976) erected a new Apostolic Prefecture of Lashio, a restricted area bordering China and a stronghold of the rebels, and entrusted the territory to the Salesians, who took up the challenge with 7 priests. After developing that place till 1990 when it became a full-fledged diocese, the Salesians handed over the diocese to the diocesan clergy.

Salesian Presence Today  
The provincial house is in Yangoon (Rangoon) with youth hostel and youth centre, in Mandalay, the second capital city there is a vocational training centre and a Salesian is the archdiocesan youth director. In Anisakan, the only house left with the Salesians in Myanmar when everything was taken away (by the government and by Church authorities) there is an aspirantate, a novitiate, and a post-novitiate which will be soon shifted to May Myo (10 kilometers away). There are 120 aspirants and 13 novices.
In Namtu, an old mining town in a God-forsaken corner of the diocese of Lashio since 2004 Salesians has a contract with the diocese to develop the mission for 25 years.
In Myitkyina, situated in the northern part of Burma, on the border with China and India, Salesians have some 17 hectares for a training centre: carpentry and mechanics for boys, and tailoring and embroidery for girls. In Hsipaw there is a parish and pre-novitiate with 40 pre-novices.
In Wa State on the China Myanmar border Salesians have a 25-year contract with the Church. In this remote part of the world lies the famous ''Golden Triangle'', the area that engages in much of the world's drug-trafficking. In this barren landscape, the people cling to the earth and to their old beliefs, as did their fathers and forefathers before them. Their numbers have been decimated by tribal warfare; they once engaged in the horrendous practice of head-hunting; each colony remained barricaded and aloof - and always in search of prey!
The Salesians first entered this region in 1993 with 3 priests and 9 Sisters (nuns of the Congregation of St. Paul the Apostle) and 30 Catholic youth from all over the country who have been recruited to help in this special Mission among the former head-hunters and opium planters.


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