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Catechists reach where priests can't go

Volunteers happy to accept villagers' challenge

Catechists reach where priests can't go
A woman catechist teaching village children the catechism reporters, Pathein, Loikaw and Yangon

July 29, 2011

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Myanmar’s catechists, who number around 2,000, are playing a vital role in the Church’s work by ministering in remote areas where priests cannot easily reach. Performing baptisms, helping with funerals and preparing couples for matrimony are the main pastoral duties they are called on to perform. Fr. Oswald Saw Bo La Yaung, director of St. Martin's National Training School for Catechists in Pathein diocese, explained why their role is so essential. "Without them, the priests cannot effectively reach out to the faithful because they can only give pastoral care to people in the villages once or twice a year," he said. It is a challenge that the catechists seem more than happy to accept. "I’m really proud to be a catechist because we are like the messengers and mediators between the priests and the faithful,” said one of them, 30-year-old Naw Emily from Hpa-an diocese. But she added that the life of the catechist is by no means an easy one. “We have to travel on foot alone when we go to the villages,” said Emily, “and malaria is a great threat for us. In fact I’ve got malaria now.” "We also face language problems in the Kayin villages and it can even be a problem to find shelter and water." Veteran catechist U Cimoenae, 67, who has served for 42 years, once faced an even stiffer challenge when his life was threatened. “I was assigned to one far flung village and some villagers misunderstood me  and thought I had been sent by the ethnic insurgents.  At that time, it was not a peaceful situation in those parts,” he said. “Fortunately, some of the villagers helped me escape from death.” A less threatening but ever present difficulty is one of finance. “We don’t get regular pay although we’re given a yearly allowance of 100,000 kyat (US$ 100),” said another of the catechists, Zavina.  “So I have faced financial problems in my family affairs.” “The parish gives us food support and the villagers give me rice, but sometimes when we visit the villages, we have to pay our own expenses. The cash support does not fulfill our needs.” Nonetheless, Zavina, 33, has stuck faithfully to her task for eight years now. For her, like most catechists, money is not the main motivation. "My intention is to be the heir of my father, a catechist who died 20 years ago,” said Thar Htay. “He showed me the way to be a good catechist and I will try my best to follow his steps throughout my life.”
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