By Fr Silvio Roggia, SDB
Where is Don Bosco in Myanmar today?
In this country, which counts nearly 60 million inhabitants, and where Catholics are less than 1%, the Salesians are 77, present in 9 centers, with a good number of young people in initial formation, both internally and abroad. The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians are 36 and have 4 Communities.
What is the history of the Salesians in Myanmar?
The Salesians arrived in Mandalay in 1939. They were then asked to go to the Lashio region, where PIME (Pontificio Istituto Missioni Estere) had already established the first Christian communities. In fact, it was those Salesians to firmly establish the Church in that region. With the coup of 1962, and the expulsion of missionaries, hard times followed, but a small group of faithful remained.
A little at a time, pastoral work resumed: now we have missionary presences, and two boarding houses, such as "Nazareth" in Anisakan, where 120 children between 12 and 17 years of age live and study - and where almost all the Salesians in the country, including Card. Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, have passed through.
Kalay has a similar center for 70 boys, as does Thibaw, where there is also a community for aspirants and prenovitiates. There is also a technical school at Myitkyina, which houses young people who have developed addictions (unfortunately a very common phenomena in some parts of the country); while in Mandalay, the “Don Bosco Friend of Youth” has opened, a home for teenagers with severe difficulties who are offered informal trade and skills training.
What can Don Bosco offer to the future of Myanmar?
Salesian life is experiencing a new aurora, thanks to the encouraging number of new vocations. Surely, there will be no lack of work, because the young people who really need a friend like Don Bosco are so many.
What does Myanmar expect from the Pope's visit?
I think the slogan that you already see printed on T-shirts and flags is spot on: "love and peace". The country has a great need to embark upon paths of justice, reconciliation, peace, attention to those who are experiencing greater difficulties or are on the margins of society.