In 2020, Fr. M was looking forward to celebrating his 25th ordination anniversary. Ordained in 1995, he was one of the first priests from Myanmar to volunteer to work with the Columbans and went assigned to Peru. Always with a missionary mindset, on his return to his diocese, he took on difficult assignments. And so, in 2020 he found himself in a remote jungle parish not far from the Thai border and making plans for his 25th anniversary celebrations. That was not to be. First came the Corona pandemic in that year, followed by political disturbances in 2021.
His remote parish became a conflict zone, and the local people could no longer stay safely in their villages. The people had to flee their homes and went further into the jungle. Thanks to assistance from the church and to the leadership of Fr M, they were able to put up temporary accommodation and receive food. And even in these terrible conditions, the parents were determined that their children would receive an education.
Using bamboo, wood and plastic sheeting, they were able to put up some rough buildings to use as classrooms sufficient for pre-schoolers up to teenagers. The name they settled on for this new education centre was ‘Spring’. As Fr M explained to me, Spring is a time of new life when seeds begin to grow and people plant crops to feed their families. The villagers want their children to not lose hope and through study to grow, even if they are living as refugees in the jungle.
The dedication and courage shown by so many people in such difficult situations is the inspiration behind the project Seeds of Hope. Several Catholic groups who have been supporting the church in Myanmar are raising funds for over 400 community education centres that have been set up in conflict zones throughout Myanmar. With few resources, they are educating their children, planting seeds of hope for the future.
Now Fr M has moved to a new location, where once again he is encouraging the people to build a new community centre; a place to educate not only children but adults as well. For Fr M, ‘Spring’ is not so much a time of year, but a belief in the new life that Christ promises each one of us.
By the way, Fr M was not able to celebrate his 25th ordination anniversary, but he did celebrate his 55th birthday at the end of 2022 with the children of ‘Spring Education Centre’. Their smiling faces no doubt being the best present of all!
(Due to security concerns, full names have not been used, and photos have been adjusted.)