St. Joseph Cottolengo Leprosy Colony, known as Hohkai Leprosy Shelter, is a refuge for leprosy victims and is located in the Loilem district of South Shan State, seven miles outside of the small town of Loilem in the parish of Taunggyi in Myanmar. It is one of the most important of the many small missions in the country. Founded in 1939 by a missionary priest, Rev. Fr. Rocco Perego, it counted 30 leprosy-patients living in small poor bamboo houses. As the number of patients increased year after year, Bp. Lanfraconi, a PIME missionary, built 40 small brick houses for the patients and a two-stories building for a group of sisters, who in 1946 began to serve as nurses, caring for the patients.
Sadly, after being treated for this illness in the shelter, the patients were not accepted back in their native villages due to the narrow mindedness and discrimination on the villagers. In response to this challenge, priests established a colony of five villages for the leprosy patients and their families. Today there are 830 people living in the five villages, 738 of which are Catholic. Together they make up 203 households. The number of Catholics is increasing every year with new baptisms and some adult baptisms.
The patients are from the tribal groups of Shan, Pa Oh, Pa Laung, and Le Sou. They are poor and unschooled. Their original religion is Buddhism but many have asked to be received into the Catholic Church after living many years under the missionary priests and sisters. Farming is the main means of support of the people and many young people flock to Thailand in search of employment, since there are no opportunities for work other than farming. They generally return home for Christmas and Easter. When permanent job opportunities in Myanmar become available, they will return and stay in the parish, which will increase the number of households to 300 in the five villages.
Problems related to the Project
In 1955, a missionary priest built the first church to accommodate 200 people. Sixty-two years later, as the congregation continued to grow, the parish regularly had over 300 worshippers at Sunday Mass and 70 worshippers for daily Eucharist. Today the old church is no longer able to accommodate all of the faithful on Sunday or during celebrations such as at Christmas and Easter. In fact, the catholic population is increasing every year.
Another problem is that this church is now in a dilapidated state. The ceiling is threatening to fall in and the corners are filled with cracks. A recent structural survey found that the building was unsound, which meant that extending and renovating the church would be almost impossible. The cost of renovations would be almost the same as the construction of a new church.
The first priority for the community, therefore, is the Construction of a new church. We must do all we can because it is very important to glorify our God in a place of praise and worship, to have a suitable place to minister to the community and to serve the people. Although the liturgical services continue in the present church, the priest and the congregation are afraid that the ceiling may fall down and the walls might collapse. Therefore, the parish has an urgent need for a new church that could seat a congregation of 400 people.
Another problem for the community is the moral and spiritual corruption of our young people. They are selling and using drugs and are far away from the church. The new building will be the best place to draw young people back to the ministry of the church, to give them solid moral and spiritual formation and even have them form a choir.
There are 65 youths living in the five villages. The economic situation of the people is quite depressed. There are no local permanent job opportunities. The income of an average family is not sufficient to ensure even the basic necessities. KMSS (Karuna Myanmar Social Service) has to partially support them in order for them to live. The Education standard is also low. Because of discrimination experienced in school and within the life of the community, made the environment ripe for children to leave school at young age in search of gainful employment in Thailand.
The following are the superintendents of the Leper Colony and pastor of the parish:
Fr. Perico, (1938-1981)
Fr. Lawrence, (1981-2013)
Fr. Alfred, (2013-2016)
Fr. Tarcisio Kyaw Aye (2016- )
Since the creation of the Leper Colony, the religious Sisters of charity continue to serve as nurses up to this day. There are four to five religious nursing sisters stationed annually in the colony.
In order to realize the project, the following activities will be undertaken during the project’s life cycle.
- Soliciting for funds for the church building project.
- Mobilize and sensitize the church members to support.
- Earth works, cleaning & levelling the construction area.
- Select and engage a qualified building contractor.
- Purchase construction materials.
- Construct the church building.
- Equip and furnish the church building.
- to provide a sound and solid worshipping place for the community.
- to foster parishioners to participate in the church’s ministry.
- to improve the Christian education of the children and youths.
- to improve the life standard of the parishioners.
- to treat those with leprosy as God’s beloved children.
Project Implementation and management
The project will be managed and supervised by the Pastoral Management Committee of the parish. It will be led by the Archbishop and assisted by the Diocesan Pastoral Management committee.
The project management group will be responsible for the various project activities as outlined in the project work plan mentioned in the proposal. The faithful will also have a role to play in the implementation of this project. In particular, they will be responsible for clearing and preparing the construction area, levelling the ground for the foundation, carrying the concrete, bricks and wood to the construction site. Materials will be purchased by the management committee in advance. They will be made available at the construction site. The building plan has been designed by an expert engineer, Daw Nu Nu, according to the recommendation of the Bishop and the Pastoral Management committee.
Monitoring and evaluation
The management committee will hold meetings every two months as part of its internal assessment and reporting of the project. The implications of these reviews will be used for further planning in the assessment, monitoring and evaluation. The funding agency can also come for monitoring if there is an opportunity.
Present Spiritual Activities
- Youth & Children Catechism class every week after Sunday Mass.
- Children Catechism every morning before their school.
- Youth course every year in summer.
- Retreat to all St. Ann’s & Catholic Action once a year.
- Meeting of Parish Management Committee every two month.
- Mass daily Rosary in the evening, confession on every Saturday.
Project Output and Benefits
Spiritual benefits: All the faithful and patients will receive spiritual growth and transformation. Youths, the Holy Childhood Association, St. Ann’s Association and Catholic Action Association will take part in animating the liturgical services and the faithful will be an active liturgical celebration.
The new church will accommodate future generations of this growing parish. The church will be larger and well constructed to last at least 50 years on. The new church will also serve for catechism classes.
Social benefits: Eradication of Immorality, poverty, healing for those addicted to drugs, the promotion of a peaceful and loving community.
The parish of leper colony makes every effort to care for the marginalized, the outcast, those without a voice – the least among us. It is in the Leper Colony that one can see Jesus Christ in those suffering from leprosy, in the poor and the outcast. In order to realize the project we need help from the outside, as well as from local contribution. Therefore, we always hope for your financial help. Through this project, I hope the spirituality of the parishioners, the living standard of these poor people, and the education of their children will be promoted.
Fr. Tarcisio Kyaw Aye, Superintendent and parish priest of Leper Colony