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FIRST NATIVE PRIEST BRINGS HOPE TO BHUTAN MISSION

  • Bhutan
  • December 04 1995
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A wealthy Bhutanese youth´s chance meeting with Mother Teresa of Calcutta on a plane journey has earned the Catholic Church in Bhutan its first native priest.

Jesuit Father Joseph Kinley Tshering was ordained Oct. 23 by Jesuit Bishop Alphonsus D´Souza of Raiganj, India. Some 60 priests, 30 nuns and several laypeople, including Father Tshering´s mother and other relatives, attended.

At the ordination at St. Joseph´s College in Darjeeling, Darjeeling diocesan administrator Father Thomas D´Souza said the priest is "a providential gift and a blessing" to the Himalayan diocese.

Bhutan, which has banned propagation of religions except Buddhism, is part of Darjeeling diocese in India. The only missioner allowed to stay there was Jesuit Father Mackey, who died five days before the ordination.

Jesuit Father Cherian Padiyara, Darjeeling Jesuit provincial, said they do not plan to send the newly ordained Bhutanese to his native country, even though Father Mackey had planned to make him his successor.

Jesuit Father Edgar Burns, former Darjeeling vicar general, said Father Tshering is good at handling youth because "he understands their problems, difficulties and disappointments."

Father Tshering, related to Bhutan´s royal family, said he decided to become a priest after a talk with Mother Teresa while they traveled together by plane from Bangalore to Calcutta.

At the time he was working for Indian firms in Bhutan after getting his masters degree in business administration. He said Bhutan´s king had offered to send him to the United States for higher education at government expense.

"This was a tempting offer, but my conscience told me that there was a chance of my going astray with the luxurious life in America," he recalled in an earlier interview with UCA News.

He declined the offer and requested the king to allow him to study in Bangalore, southern India. His relatives then pressed him to marry, but he could not make up his mind, he said, as something held him back.

He shared this anxiety with Mother Teresa, seated near him in the plane. "After hearing me, at once she said that God wanted me to become a priest and advised me to go for priesthood."

He said her advice gave him moral strength to decide his future and he left his job in 1986 to become a Jesuit. His relatives at the ordination told UCA News they are happy and approved his decision to become a Catholic priest.

Father Tshering said his tryst with Christianity began during his days at Darjeeling´s Bethany primary school managed by Cluny nuns.

"I saw a crucifix the first time when I entered the school chapel," he recalled, adding that what first impressed him "as a child from a Buddhist cultural background" was "why the man was crucified."

He said he wondered if "the man" had done something wrong. "This led me to find out more about the man and his mission," Father Tshering said of his early encounter with the Christian faith.

He joined catechism classes and "came to know the man on the cross was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born as a man to redeem us from sins." His search continued at Darjeeling´s Jesuit-managed St. Joseph´s School.

"Catechism inspired me to become a Catholic and I asked the Jesuits to baptize me, but they refused," Father Tshering said, so he approached Salesian priests then working in Bhutan´s Kharbandi village near the India border.

The Salesians readily baptized him though Jesuits, perhaps anxious about the proselytization issue, were not happy "at my baptism," the Jesuit priest said.

Bhutan King Jigme Singye Wangchuk learned of his conversion and called him as he visited his parents. The king, he said, introduced him as a Catholic to other dignitaries and said there was nothing wrong in his becoming a Catholic.

"These words of the king gave me great relief and this was in a way his approval of my becoming a Catholic," Father Tshering asserted, as other Church people expressed hope the approval will open the "land of the thunder dragon."

END

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