Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Story of a Missionary Proclaimed Blessed

His name is Clemente Vismara
He spent his life in the missions. 
He planted the Church where Christianity had never come before. 
An ordinary sanctity, that simply put into practice the Sermon on the Mount

by Sandro Magister

ROME, May 23, 2011 – The beatification of John Paul II was a great event. "But there are also other exemplary witnesses of Christ, much less known, whom the Church joyfully points out for the veneration of the faithful": this is what Benedict XVI said at the "Regina Cæli" two Sundays ago.

Humble, ordinary saints – including those who will never get a halo – are a key theme in the preaching of pope Joseph Ratzinger. For him, the saints are "the greatest apologia for our faith." Together with art and music, he has often added; and much more than the arguments of reason.

Made by a pope who is a great theologian and thinker, this statement might come as a surprise. But it is perfectly in line with another of his characteristic traits: that of putting theology at the service of the "faith of the simple."

The saints – Benedict XVI has said on various occasions – are the "great luminous trail on which God passed through history, we see that there truly is a force of good which resists the millennia; there truly is the light of light."

One of these lights will be lit to wider attention on June 26, the day of the feast of Corpus Domini, when in Milan a priest will be beatified, Clemente Vismara, who died in 1988 at the age of 91, years spent to the last in missionary territory, in a remote corner of Burma.

His biography is the account of that ordinary sanctity which so pleases this pope who has called himself a "humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord."

The profile of the new blessed reproduced below was written by one of his confreres who know him very closely: Fr. Piero Gheddo, also a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, who has also spent decades as missionary in the "ancient" style that dates back to the apostles themselves. It was not for nothing that John Paul II asked Fr. Gheddo to write him an outline for the 1990 encyclical "Redemptoris Missio," aimed at reinvigorating the genuine missionary spirit in an age in which it seems to have gone out of style.

In Buddhist Burma, today called Myanmar, Catholics are little more than one out of one hundred inhabitants. But if the Christian faith is rooted there, it is due precisely to a missionary like Vismara, soon to be beatified.

It is due to the "luminous trail" radiated by his holiness.

This profile of the new blessed written by Fr. Gheddo was published on "Asia News," the online agency of the missionary institute to which Fr. Vismara belonged.


by Piero Gheddo

On Sunday, June 26 in Piazza Duomo in Milan Father Clemente Vismara (1897-1988) will be beatified. In 1983, on the sixtieth year of his mission in Myanmar, the Episcopal Conference proclaimed him "Patriarch of the Burma".

Born in 1897 in Agrate Brianza, he took part in the First World War, as a trench soldier, emerging from battle with the rank of sergeant and three medals for military valour. He understood that "life has value only if you give it for others" (as he wrote), and thus he became a priest and missionary of PIME in 1923 and left for Burma. Arriving in Toungoo, the last city with a British governor, he spent six months in the bishop's house to learn English, then he set off for Kengtung, an almost unexplored land of forest, mountains and inhabited by tribal people, still under the domination of a local king (saboà) sponsored by the British. After fourteen days of riding he arrived at Kengtung where he would remain for three months to learn the local languages and then the superior of the mission accompanied him to Monglin, reached after six days on horseback, his last destination on the border between Laos, Thailand and China.

It was October 1924 and in 32 years (in the midst of World War II, a prisoner of the Japanese), Clemente Vismara, out of nowhere, built three parishes: Monglin, Mong Phyak and Kenglap. He wrote to Agrate: "Here I am 120 kilometres from Kengtung, if I want to see another Christian I have to look in the mirror". He lived with three orphans in a mud and straw shed. His apostolate was to tour the tribal villages on horseback, to pitch his tent and make himself known: he brought medicine, pulled rotten teeth, adapted to life with the tribals, the climate, dangers, food, rice and spicy salsa, hunting for meat. From the outset he took in orphans and abandoned children in Monglin to educate them. Later he founded an orphanage that became home to between 200 to 250 orphans. Today he is invoked as the "protector of children" and a lot of the graces received concern children and families.

A life lived in conditions of extreme poverty, Clement wrote: "This is worse than when I was in the trenches on the Adamello and Monte Maio, but I wanted this war and I have to fight to the end with God's help. I'm always in the hands of God." Gradually a Christian community was born, the Sisters of the Child Mary came to help, he founded schools and chapels, factories and rice fields, irrigation canals, he taught carpentry and mechanics, built brick houses and brought new crops, wheat, corn, silkworms, vegetables (carrots, onions, salad – "the father eats grass," the people would say).

Soon-to-be Blessed Clement founded the church in a corner of the world where there are no tourists, but only opium smugglers, black magicians and guerillas from different backgrounds, he brought peace and stabilised nomadic tribes within the territory who, through the schooling and health care, have raised their standards of living and now have doctors and nurses, artisans and teachers, priests and nuns, bishops and civil authorities. Many of them called Clement and Clementina.

In 1956, when he founded the Christian citadel of Monglin and converted fifty villages to faith in Christ, the bishop moved him to Mongping, 250 kilometers from Monglin in the vast diocese of Kengtung, where he had to start from scratch. Clemente wrote to his brother: "I obey the bishop because I understand that if I do things my own way then I do them wrong." At the age of sixty he began a new mission and also founded here the Christian town and parish of Mongping, a second parish in Tongtà and left another fifty Catholic villages in his wake.

He died June 15, 1988 in Mongping and is buried near the church and the Grotto of Lourdes, which he built. On his grave visited by many non-Christians fresh flowers and lit candles are never lacking. Now, 23 years later, June 26, 2011, Father Clemente Vismara is to be declared a blessed of the Church Universal and is the first blessed of Burma. A rapid cause for beatification, given the usually long time needed for these Roman "processes".

Why is Father Clemente Vismara being declared Blessed? In life he did not perform miracles, have visions or revelations, he was not a mystic nor a theologian, he made no great works nor had any extraordinary gifts. He was a missionary like the rest, so much so that when we discussed the opening of his beatification cause here at PIME, some of his confreres in Burma said: "If you declare him Blessed you need to declare all of us here blessed who have led the same life he did". In 1993 I went to Kengtung with two missionaries who had been with Clement in Burma and we asked the Bishop Abraham Than, "Why do you want father Clement declared blessed?" He said: "We had many PIME missionaries saints who founded dioceses, including the first Bishop Erminio Bonetta, still remembered as a model of evangelical charity, and others whose memory is still alive. But none of them have sparked this devotion and this movement of people who declare them saints, like Father Vismara. In this I see a sign from God to start the diocesan process."

As one of his brothers said: "Vismara saw the extraordinary in the ordinary." At eighty years he had the same enthusiasm for his vocation as a priest and missionary, peaceful and joyful, generous to all, trusting in Providence, a man of God despite the tragic situations in which he lived. He had an adventurous and poetic vision of the missionary vocation that made him a fascinating character through his writings, perhaps the most famous Italian missionary of the twentieth century.

His trust in Providence was proverbial. He had no budgets or estimates, he never counted the money he had. In a country where the majority of people in some months suffer from hunger, Clement gave food to all, he never turned anyone away empty-handed. The PIME Brothers and Sisters of the Child Mary would reproach him for taking in too many children, old people, lepers, disabled, widows, mentally unbalanced. Clemente always said: "Today we all ate, tomorrow the Lord will provide." He trusted in Providence, but across the world he wrote to donors for support and help with articles in various magazines. He spent his evenings writing letters and articles by candlelight (I have collected over 2000 letters and 600 articles.) It must be added that the writings of Father Vismara, poetic, adventurous, inflamed with love for the poorest, have attracted many vocations to the priesthood and missionary life, not only in Italy.

Clemente represents well the virtues and the values of the missionaries to be passed down to future generations. In the last half century, mission to the nations has dramatically changed, but always remaining to be what Jesus wants, "Go into all the world, proclaim the Gospel to every creature." But the new methods (responsibility of the local church, inculturation, interreligious dialogue, etc..) must be experienced in the spirit and continuity of the ecclesial tradition that dates back to the Apostles.

Clemente is one of the last links in this glorious Apostolic Tradition. He was in love with Jesus (he prayed a lot!) in love with his people, especially the small and the least and wrote: "These orphans are not mine, but God's, and God never allows us to lack the necessary". He lived to the letter what Jesus says in the Gospel: "Do not worry too much, saying, 'What shall we eat? What shall we drink? How will we dress?'. The ones who do not know that God cares for all these things. But if you look for the Kingdom of God and do his will, everything else God will give you and more "(Matt. 6:31-34). Utopia? No, Clemente was a living reality, which brings joy to the heart despite all the problems he had.

I visited Burma in 1983, at 86 he was still parish priest at Mongping. I wanted to interview him about his adventures and he told me: "Forget my past I have told that story too many times. Let's talk about my future” and he spoke to me about the villages to visit, schools and chapels to be built, the requests for conversion that came from various parts. As a confrere said: "He died at 91 without ever being old." He had kept the enthusiasm of the early days of his mission.

Father Clemente Vismara is one of about 200 PIME missionaries who since  1867 until the present have been based in northeastern Burma in six of the 14 dioceses in Myanmar: Toungoo, Kengtung, Taunggyi, Lashio, Loikaw and Pekong, with about 300 thousand baptized, indigenous bishops, priests and nuns, more than half of Catholics in Burma.

Clemente is one of many who, all together, are a good example of the missionary tradition and spirit of the PIME, that continues to assist the Church of Myanmar in various ways, among other things, in taking on their missionary vocations, training them and sending them into the institution's community present on every continent to proclaim Christ and found the church in other nations.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Allies Urged Pope Pius XII not to protest publicly against Nazi brutality

 British, US Document Unearthed

 ROME, MAY 17, 2011 - The United States and Great Britain discouraged Pope Pius XII from speaking out against Nazi brutality, warning the Pope that a public protest could have grave consequences.

 The Allies' recommendation is reported in a document unearthed recently by the New York-based Pave the Way Foundation, founded by an American Jew, Gary Krupp.

 Krupp asserted that these revelations help to give context for the way in which Pius XII handled the Nazi horror.

 The document is correspondence between the British representative to the Holy See, Sir D'Arcy Osborne, and Myron Taylor, his U.S. counterpart.

 A Nov. 7, 1944, note signed by Taylor's assistant, Franklin C. Gowen, reports to Taylor that Osborne "called and said that he feared the Holy Father may make Radio appeal on behalf of Jews in Hungary and that in his appeal he may also criticise what the Russians are doing in occupied territory."

 "Sir D'Arcy said something should be done to prevail upon the Pope not to do this," the note added, "as it would have very serious political repercussions."

 Krupp showed ZENIT another note between the envoys' offices that references a letter about help for Jewish refugees. The note "clearly states that the letter must be destroyed in order to prevent it from falling into enemy hands," Krupp said.

 Osborne wrote the May 20, 1944, note to Harold Tittman, another of Taylor's assistants.

 The British representative tells the U.S. envoy's assistant that he will destroy the letter, saying that if it were to fall into enemy hands it would incriminate a priest called Father Benedetto.

 Krupp observed that the destruction of documents was necessarily common during the war. "There are some critics who do not seem to understand that this is why so many written orders also had to be destroyed," Krupp noted.


 Further information about the Catholic response to the Holocaust has been uncovered by Dimitri Cavalli, a journalist, researcher, and contributor to Pave the Way archives and publications. He has located documents from an international Jewish press called the JTA (Jewish Telegraph Agency).

 One release dated June 28, 1943, reports Vatican Radio denunciations of the treatment of Jews in France.

 A few days earlier, June 25, 1943, the JTA reported the denunciation in German of anti-Semitic actions in Slovakia.

 Cavalli also discovered a May 19, 1940, Jewish Chronicle magazine published by B'nai B'rith featuring Pope Pius XII's picture on the front cover with the lead article titled the Pope's Jewish scholars.

 This article reports how the Vatican was hiring Jewish academics who were fired by Italian institutions due to Mussolini's anti-Semitic laws.

 The JTA also reported a confrontation between Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier, archbishop of Lyon, when he was visited by Nazi authorities in France.

 The Nazis told the archbishop they would leave the Church alone, if the cardinal and other clergy would not oppose the anti-Jewish laws and would stop protecting Jews.

 The cardinal responded that the French clergy did not engage in politics but "is obeying the Pope." He cut short the confrontation telling the Nazis, "You no doubt know that the Holy Father has condemned the anti-Semitic laws and all anti-Jewish measures."

 Another JTA article, from Feb. 5, 1943, reported a strong condemnation of Nazi theories from Cardinal Jusztinián Györg Serédi, archbishop of Esztergom.

 On the same page is a short article on how Mussolini is reported to be relaxing his Jewish racial laws in order to try to strengthen his relations with the Vatican.

 The Jewish Chronicle of London dated Sept. 9, 1942, reports that Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany, printed 10 million pamphlets in multiple languages for distribution in Europe and Latin America, condemning Pope Pius XII for his pro-Jewish stance.


 Krupp told ZENIT that "to date, Pave the Way foundation has amassed over 46,000 pages of news articles, original documents, research materials, along with numerous eyewitness video testimonies, and audio and video files answering the 47 questions left unanswered by a Jewish Catholic study session in 2001."

 This material is available at the Pave the Way site.

 Elliot Hershberg, Pave the Way chairman, said the abundance of material unearthed and recorded by the foundation gives plenty of material to scholars studying the Vatican's response to the Nazi regime, even as the Vatican archives on this period are still unopened.

 Hershberg said the foundation is aware of the Vatican’s eagerness to complete the cataloguing process and to open the archives as soon as possible. Benedict XVI has quintupled the numbers of trained archival personnel to complete this tedious work, he explained, adding that with more than 31 million documents needing to be sewn into books, numbered page by page, and summarized, this job is difficult.

 Hershberg pledged that in the meantime, Pave the Way will continue to research and post all documents relative to this period in order to hasten the resolution of this 47-year-old obstacle between Jews and Catholics worldwide.
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 On the Net:

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