Saturday, February 15, 2020


I am always thrilled to find new saints in far away places, especially when they are the first saint of the area. A zealous Italian missionary priest who worked for nearly 3 decades in what is today Myanmar (Burma) and was martyred there among his people, was declared Blessed in October 2019.

PADRE ALFREDO CREMONESI was a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).  He was born in 1902 in Ripalta Guerina in Cremona as the first of seven children. He felt a desire to become a missionary when he was 20, already in the seminary. Despite his zeal, a serious illness stood on the path of his missionary goal. 

Yet, precisely because of that adversity that weakened him physically, his "spirit became young and strong again,” he wrote. "It was in that slow decline of my being that my heart felt the attraction of the apostolate, above all, of sacrifice."

He was finally healed of his illness, which he attributed to St Thérèse of Lisieux, whom he loved. 
He was just 23 when he left for Burma in 1925. His mission proved difficult in an isolated mountain village and he often had to travel long distances to visit the people. 

Bl. Alfredo had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart, having Eucharistic Adoration each night for one hour before the tabernacle.  He then woke each morning at 4:00 am to celebrate Mass.   Proclaiming the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,  filled him with enthusiasm and strength.   

He associated his missionary work, "which is the most varied life, full of people and words, more on the outside and noisier than any high life", to "an insatiable longing to be in front of Jesus in prayer and in constant exercise of divine presence” and “a great desire to consume everything and soon, so that the kingdom of the Sacred Heart could come to these lands."

"Here they call me ‘perpetual motion’ because I never know how to stay still", he wrote in 1947. The new blessed proved to be tireless, oblivious to his health at times.  In 1934 he wrote, "I probably gave myself a hundred quinine shots”.

With the outbreak of World War II, British-run Burma entered the conflict, where Italians were regarded as enemies, as Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini declared his alliance with the Axis powers against the Allies.  

Near the end of the war, Bl. Alfredo was forced to live in the 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 suffering, the lack of food and clothing (limited to what he had on), with villages devoid of people and marketplaces abandoned. 

When the Second World War ended, a local civil conflict between the Karen rebels and government forces erupted. Despite the danger, Bl. Alfredo  did not abandon the Catholic villages knowing his presence was often a good deterrent to violence.

In 1950, unfortunately, two other PIME missionaries, Mario Vergara and Pietro Galastri, lost their lives.  
In August of the same year, Bl. Alfredo was asked to leave, and took refuge in Toungoo. Being far from his faithful was a true exile. He went back in March 1952, promising never to leave again. 

“Whatever my death, as long as it is not in exile,” he said after he went back to Donokù. The brief exile had however spared him a possible martyrdom.

On his return, he found that all his belongings at home, in the church, in the school and in the convent were looted. The work of 26 years was all lost. “I shall not run away anymore, whatever happens. At most they’ll kill me," he resolved.

On February 7, 1953, after the Burmese military operation failed to flush out Karen rebels from the region, government troops entered Donokù. Bl. Alfredo and the villagers were accused of supporting the rebels. The missionary tried to convince the soldiers, who then fired their machine guns at him and the village chief. Two girls behind them were also killed in the attack. The village head died while the blessed was still alive. 

The villagers fled into the forest during the attack while the soldiers entered the local church and desecrated it before setting the village ablaze. When the commander found that the priest was still alive, he shot him in the face point-blank, killing him. 

The villagers returned to the following day to bury their dead. Before burying their priest, they sent his bloodied shirt together with a part of his beard to the PIME superiors in Taungngu with a note: "Relics of the martyr Father Cremonesi to be sent to his parents". 

He was "A victim of his charity” and “a good shepherd who gave his life for his flock,” his faithful said of him. 

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