Building Up the Church in Myanmar

Interview With Sister Veronica Nwe Ni Moe

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ROME, OCT. 11, 2010 ( It’s been three years since Myanmar made daily headlines with the ruling junta’s violent repression of pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks.

Now the nation is preparing for rare national elections next month, though the international community is hardly expecting a crowning moment of democracy.

It is in such a context that Sister Veronica Nwe Ni Moe and her Salesian sisters are building up the Church, one child at a time.

In this interview given to the television program «Where God Weeps» of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, Sister Veronica speaks of the work of the Salesians in Myanmar, as well as her own efforts to further her education in Rome.

Q: Sister you are working a lot with young people. You are studying in Rome and your focus is education. What are the challenges facing the young people in Myanmar?

Sister Veronica: I’m a Salesian sister. We see many young girls coming to us. We have a training center for young girls from ages 15 to 25 who come from the various parishes. They are usually from the various ethnic groups. They have no future and no guidance.

Q: The center of the country is much more Buddhist. The border regions are much more Catholic. How is it that your family is Catholic in a more Buddhist region?

Sister Veronica: This is my opinion. My mom is from the Karen tribe from the border regions and in Myanmar, «the tribals» as we are called are predominantly Catholics.

Q: Maybe you could explain the situations in the border regions?

Sister Veronica: We do not know the real motive of the government in waging war against the tribes. What I could say is that the innocent people, particularly the young who are caught in the crossfire, are suffering. They are forced to carry food and weapons and are constantly on the move. There is no stability and education is non-existent, or is not a priority.

Most of the girls are also exploited or abused by different people especially in the border regions. So there is no future for these young girls, and also boys, despite their varied talents. The girls who come to us — we teach them and they are able to use their creativity. When I became a sister I stayed with the girls for three years. While staying with them I realized that I too learned so many things from them.

Q: For example?

Sister Veronica: To be simple. To be content with what you have. Happiness does not lie in material things that you possess but rather with life lived. A life of commitment and honesty, which gives them this joy.

Q: It must be painful for you to witness this suffering of the young people?

Sister Veronica: Sure. I suffer. We are educators and our congregation worldwide is able to own their own schools, youth centers, oratories and we are free — but not in Myanmar. What I do is, first of all, pray for them and then I commit myself wholeheartedly to them by educating them and teaching them to be good Christian mothers so that they can transmit their faith to their children.

Q: Is it possible to open schools, even small village schools in these areas?

Sister Veronica: We have a kindergarten with 100 children and most of them are Buddhist. Working with the Buddhists is not difficult because they are very peaceful and they [the parents] appreciate our work. It is easy to work in collaboration with the parents.

Q: But you have only opened one kindergarten so far. What is preventing you from doing more? Is it the war?

Sister Veronica: First of all, it’s the number of Salesian sisters in Burma. There are only 21 of us at the moment and still growing. We now have 16 to 17 aspirants, eight postulants and nine novices; we are growing. This number hinders us also because we want to give 100% of ourselves. And to do it well! We have four houses in Myanmar and the 21 sisters are distributed among these houses.

Q: What is the day to day relationship between the Catholics and Buddhists?

Sister Veronica: It is very peaceful. For example, in the village where I was born, of the 800 families, eight are Catholics and they’re all my relatives. So all my friends are mostly Buddhist. We live peacefully and this is the norm. The Buddhist monks are kind and compassionate.

Q: Sister, there are, as part of evangelization in the Church, young people called “Zetemans.» Can you tell us about the “Zeteman” and what they do?

Sister Veronica: They are young Catholic missionaries, aged 18 and above; so they are very young. They dedicate their lives and give their services to their dioceses for three years. They go to the remote places — mountains, forests within their dioceses — to serve. Their main goal is to serve and do charitable work in education, health care, for the elderly. They do not catechize but if the people ask about Jesus and the faith then they share their faith. They do this service and sometimes risk their own lives; they often succumb to sickness, often times from their travels through the jungles. It is a very important service they provide because, often times, the religious and priests cannot visit these places.

Q: How long are they [young people] gone and how long does it take them to reach a village in the mountains?

Sister Veronica: Two of our Salesian sisters did that service before becoming sisters; so their Salesian vocation was born from this “Zeteman” service. And what I know is that they travel to distant places, for example, even traveling by car, it would take them three days to reach their destination, often visiting very poor villages and often times without food. They often live with the villagers.

Q: Sister, can you tell us a little bit about your vocation?

Sister Veronica: When I was young I never thought about becoming a sister. My ambition was to become a doctor to care for the sick. I did try to study very hard because in my country to be a doctor requires hard work. In my 10th year I also wanted to study computers and English. My father, at this time in the year 1997-1998, became acquainted with the Salesian missionary sisters. He met two Salesian sisters and was struck by their joy and welcoming attitude. He asked me, after coming back home from the city, if I would like to study under them. I said yes and he accompanied me there.

During my stay with them, I started to ask myself and witnessed their joy despite the difficulties. I was 17-18 years old at this time and searching for the real happiness in life. I often questioned why they were always happy while I was not always and afterward, I realized that their true happiness was in loving God and serving one’s neighbors. This I now know. To search for real happiness was what made me follow the Salesian way; to be joyful in serving and helping to educate these young people.

Q: Sister, you are here studying in Rome. What brought you here?

Sister Veronica: Firstly it was out of obedience to my superior. I was asked to study and to prepare for my future mission. The other thing is that my superior informed me that she received a scholarship from Aid to the Church in Need. ACN provided a scholarship for five years. I have been very grateful to ACN. I’ve also prayed for all those who have supported me in my studies, my formation, and I always remind myself, and I’m very convinced, that if I do not know anything I cannot share anything. I can only share what I know and what I’ve learned. The most important thing I can share when I go back is the love of God. This is more precious than anything else and we are in much need of it.

Q: And now you feel as if your fruits are being used: your education, your languages, you’re now here in Rome, you’re completing your studies in education and you’ll be going back soon to Myanmar, yes? Sister, what is your hope for the Church in Myanmar?

Sister Veronica: I’m very hopeful.
I see a very good future for the Catholic Church in Burma. First of all there is an increase in the number of young people who are very generous of themselves. The other fact is the Catholic Church is well known for her charity, and very close to the poor. We want to continue on this strength and mandate — joy, poverty and service to the poor. I also believe in God’s grace. God is working in and through us and with our dedication to the faithful. We will grow.

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This interview was conducted for «Where God Weeps,» a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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