The Servants of God, Fr Mario Vergara, a priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), and lay catechist Isidore Ngei Ko Lat will be beatified. They were killed in hatred of the faith in Shadaw (Myanmar) on 24 May 1950.
made the decision after authorising the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
to promulgate the decree concerning their martyrdom. Mgr Phamo Soter, bishop of
Loikaw who was the son of a catechist trained by Fr Mario, began the diocesan
process for the case in 2003.
Hence, the Burmese Church will celebrate its
Fr Mario Vergara
was born in Frattamaggiore (Aversa) on 16 November 1910. In 1929, after studying
at the Jesuit minor seminary in Posillipo, he was admitted to the PIME seminary
in Monza. In 1932 he received the tonsure and minor orders by the Bishop of
Aversa Carmine Cesarano. In August 1933, he was admitted to the PIME novitiate in
Sant'Ilario Ligure under the guidance of Fr Emilio Milani,
who was a missionary in China.
On August 26, 1934 he was ordained priest by
Card Ildefonso Schuster in the church of Bernareggio. By the end of September,
he had joined the PIME mission in Burma.
At that time,
the country was a British colony. Upon his arrival, Fr Vergara was greeted by
Bishop Sagrada, apostolic vicar in Toungoo. In 1936, he was entrusted with the
care of the mountainous district of Citaciò, home to a Karen tribe, the Soku,
one of the poorest and most primitive in Burma.
Here Fr Vergara fine-tuned
his missionary method. He thus brought the catechesis to all the villages, celebrated
the sacraments and established various training and aid activities, including
an orphanage for 82 Burmese children and a sanatorium.
In 1941, after
the outbreak of the Second World War, he was interned in British concentration camps
in India along with other Italian missionaries, deemed "fascists" by
the British. After four years during which he experienced health problems and had
a kidney removed, he was released and travelled by train across India to Delhi
In the fall of
1946, he got back to Burma. In December, Bishop Lanfranconi sent him to the Kayah-Karen
Mountains, east of Loikaw, where alone he rebuilt the mission that the war had
swept away. He taught catechesis in the villages and built medical posts and
Starting in September 1948, another young PIME missionary, Fr Pietro
Galastri joined him.
independence in 1948, the places where Fr Mario, Fr Piero and their catechists
operated saw fighting break out between local groups trying to assert their various
traditions, religious beliefs and ideologies.
Still, he did
not slow down. Instead, he travelled on foot to distant communities and brought
care to mountain people, without distinction of religion, and this despite the
fact that some rebel forces had started to persecute Catholics. Against this
background, Fr Vergara came to the defence of the oppressed, sparking hatred Baptist
situation worsened. On 24 May 1950 he was arrested together with master
catechist Isidore Ngei Ko Lat. The two were killed by rebels the next day and
their bodies, placed in a bag, were thrown into the Salween River. Fr Galastri,
who was praying, was also arrested and killed shortly afterwards.
For the Church
in Burma, the beatification is a source of great joy as Isidore Ngei will be its first blessed.
In May 2008, the
local Bishops' Conference wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI to "ask humbly
the Pope to authorise the study of the cause."
beatification of Fr Vergara and his catechist, the bishops wrote, "would greatly
encourage the entire Catholic community in Myanmar to live their faith more in
line with the Gospel."
It will also help its members "bear witness in a
courageous and heroic fashion to their faith, encouraged by the example of the
catechist Isidore who did not hesitate to offer his life for the Gospel together
with Fr Vergara."