June 11, 2013 — Jesuit Father Wilbert Mireh was ordained to the priesthood in Loikaw Cathedral in Myanmar in May, making him the first Myanmar-born Jesuit to be ordained since the Society of Jesus was approved 473 years ago.
Twenty Jesuit priests were present for the ceremony, including Jesuit Father Wardi Saputra, Fr. Mireh’s novice master. “A long time ago the bishop [of Taunggyi, Fr. Matthias U. Shwe] kept asking me, ‘When will we have a Jesuit ordained in Myanmar?’” recalled Fr. Saputra, who came to Myanmar from Indonesia in 1998 to set up a novitiate.
For Fr. Mireh, the moment of ordination was one of grace in which he felt the blessing of God. While aware of the responsibility that would come with being his country’s first Jesuit priest, Fr. Mireh said he felt tremendous support from those around him.
“It’s a privilege, and a feeling of being ready to begin my ministry — I’ve been wanting to do this for so long. As a Jesuit, I am filled with the missionary spirit,” he said.
Although Portuguese Jesuits brought Catholicism to the Kingdom of Pegu in the early 17th century and the Maryland Province Jesuits worked in Myanmar (then known as Burma) in the 1950s and 60s, the country’s political situation prevented the society from flourishing. Since the Jesuits’ return to Myanmar in 1998, they have worked alongside the Catholic Church on the formation of young religious and the education of a people damaged by years of military rule.
The historic ordination is also a milestone for all those around the world who have supported the Jesuit mission in Myanmar. Moreover, the addition of a local Jesuit priest to the church will have grassroots benefits, according to Myanmar novice master Jesuit Father Irsan Rimawal.
“First of all, they know better than foreign Jesuits about the culture and their own situation. Also I think having local Jesuits gives us a tremendous chance to contribute and to involve ourselves in the life of the church here in Myanmar,” Fr. Rimawal said.
Fr. Mireh will begin his pastoral work in the Diocese of Loikaw, in which he grew up and where his faith was formed. His fellow Jesuits — from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Australia — will continue their work building up the Jesuits’ fledgling mission in Myanmar. [Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference]