Interviews

From Myanmar to PNG

By Fr Robert Moe – Goodenough Island, MBP

Fr Robert Moe, an ethnic Kaya from the mountains of Myanmar, a country where Catholics are 1% of the population, discovered his vocation as a seminarian and became a missionary. The journey of the 35-year-old priest reflects the fate of the Church in Myanmar, which is marking the 500th anniversary of its first evangelization this year and with the rest of the country is now opening up to the world.

Fr Robert, tell us about yourself

I was born in 1979. I entered the diocesan seminary in Myanmar at 14. In 2003 I met some of the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) fathers who were teaching there. I particularly remember a talk with Italian Fr Adrian Pelosin. At that time, he was working in Thailand, but he often came to see us. That year, he spoke to us about the life of a missionary, about his work. This generated a desire in me for the missions outside the boundaries of my diocese. Fr Adrian told us that “if you become a missionary, you cannot count on staying in your country, tribe, diocese or family. They send you out of your culture and geographical boundaries, because this is the missionary vocation”. That sparked my interest even more. I was struck by Fr Adrian’s experience, the way he was living his charisma, his relationship with the Buddhists, his love and concern for street kids. After talking with our bishop, three of us from the diocese of Loikaw made the decision to join PIME.

What did your missionary experience give you?

I suggested to my superiors to send me to Papua New Guinea because I loved forests more than cities. But when I arrived I noticed the difference. In my home State of Kaya there are mountains. In Milne Bay there is only water; you go on the sea, by boat. I went to Watuluma at Goodenough Island. I found it hard to adapt to the local way of thinking. There, the priest must do a bit of everything. The priest must sometimes be a judge, sometimes a teacher. So I often feel unable to take on all these roles. In addition, the culture is different. Sometimes you say something and locals understand something else. It is a cultural shock. Anyway, I am glad for these years.

With all the needs one can see in Myanmar, what is the point of going on mission elsewhere?

My friends asked me that same question several times. I myself tried to find an answer. In Myanmar, Christians (Protestants and Catholics) are at best five per cent of the population. In Papua New Guinea most people are Christians. We are here to help the local Church grow and mature. For my part, I do what other missionaries have done, when they brought the faith to Myanmar. I received the faith because others made this choice before me, abandoning their country and their people. They came to us to pass on the faith. Now it is up to us to pass it on ourselves. In my diocese and in my country, we need to understand the urgency of passing on the faith to the world. This is why I am here. (www.asianews.it)

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