Fr Donald Hornsey with Ah Ling, Maria and family members.
Every Wednesday, I have the rewarding experience of accompanying the Sisters as we visit Colombian refugees. However, the other day, they asked if I could go with them to bless the home and pray for the health of a family from Myanmar.
I was delighted to find that Ah Ling and her family were from the Kachin area where Columbans had worked for 40 years up to the time when the government forced them to leave in 1979.
But greater was my surprise when Ah Ling´s Kachin friend, Maria, arrived. She pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket and said “I have been waiting to meet a Columban for many years because I want to find out where New Zealand Columbans, Frs Tom Rillstone and Lawrence Hickey, are buried.”
I was able to tell her that Fr Tom Rillstone was buried in Invercargill at the bottom of the South Island, but that Fr Lawrence Hickey’s grave was in the Taita Cemetery in Lower Hutt where the Columban Centre is located.
It was touching to see how Columbans who were forced to leave Burma nearly 40 years ago are still remembered.
Maria said that when she was a young girl, Fr Tom Rillstone would travel the 25 kilometres from Myitkyina to visit her village and celebrate Mass.
Maria also maintains internet contact with Archbishop Paul Grawng Emeritus, the first Kachin priest, ordained by Columban Bishop Howe in 1965 and ordained Bishop 11 years later. He is now Archbishop in Mandalay.
Ah Ling and Maria visit the grave of Fr Lawrence Hickey at the Taita Cemetery in Lower Hutt. Photos: © Fr Donald Hornsey
Ah Ling, Maria and their families dressed up in typical Kachin costume to gather with many other Columban friends to celebrate the Columban Centenary in a wonderful ceremony in the Lower Hutt parish church.
They continue with their memories of the Columban presence in Myanmar, so much so that they are now planning to make the 730 kilometre trip to Invercargill to pray at the lasting resting place of Fr Thomas Rillstone who made Burma his home for nearly 40 years.
Columban Fr Donald Hornsey spent 40 years working in Chile, Brazil and Peru. He now lives at St Columbans in Lower Hutt, New Zealand and works with Colombian refugees there.
Listen to Still remembered
- Read more from The Far East, January/February 2019