Italian priest Alfredo Cremonesi, who endured war and starvation as a devoted missionary in Burma’s remote villages, was beatified at a ceremony in northern Italy, a first step on the path to sainthood.
Father Alfredo arrived as a missionary Burma (now Myanmar) aged just 23. He never left the country, working tirelessly for the poor, before being shot dead by government troops during ethnic civil conflict in his diocese. He was 50.
“Killed in Burma in 1953, he was a tireless apostle of peace and a zealous witness of the Gospel, until his blood was shed,” Pope Francis said, paying homage to Father Alfredo, a day after the ceremony on Oct. 19 in his home city of Crema.
“May his example push us to be courageous workers and missionaries in every environment; may his intercession support those who struggle today to sow the Gospel in the world,” the pope said reported Asia News on what was also World Mission Sunday.
Overcoming a serious illness as a child, Father Alfredo left for Burma in 1925 as a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. Posted to a remote mountain village in the southern Bago region, he had to travel long distances, often on foot, to visit people.
He prayed and worked hard in the region, where food was limited and where mostly ethnic Karen villagers lived. The outbreak of World War II brought new hardships to British-run Burma, which entered the conflict and where Italians were regarded as enemies thanks to Mussolini’s alliance with Germany.
He was forced to live in a forest where he ate herbs to survive. “So here we are in the middle of a battlefield,” he wrote in 1945. “Soldiers come and go, shooting… villages destroyed by various troops in retaliation…”
In a letter in 1946, he recounted his own suffering, including a lack of food, only the clothes on his back and with villages devoid of people and marketplaces abandoned, according to the Vatican News.
When the war ended, a local civil conflict erupted between Karen rebels and Burmese government forces. Father Alfredo did not want to abandon the Catholic villages caught in the conflict because his presence was often a deterrent to the violence.
At one stage, he was forced to flee his parish after two other priests were killed but later returned to find his belongings, school, convent and church looted. During an operation to flush out the rebels, soldiers accused Father Alfredo of supporting them. He tried to reassure them, but they shot dead the village chief and others, before later setting fire to the village. He was shot in the face and killed, Vatican News said.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said Father Alfredo’s beatification was an encouragement to those working in Myanmar, an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, to go beyond the spiritual.
“The beatification of Father Cremonesi is an encouragement to the Church in Myanmar to continue working, going beyond spiritual and moral wounds, so as to bring the healing medicine of God’s mercy among people who have suffered from conflicts and repression, and who are arduously following the path of freedom, justice and peace,” Cardinal Becciu said at the ceremony.