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Arrival of Early Catholic Chaplains in Myanmar before Nyaungyan Period
By Dr. Aung Myo Tun — Lecturer, Department of History, University of Mandalay, Myanmar.
Most of the people, inhabiting in Myanmar professed Buddhism since the 3rd century A.D in Pyu era. In 13th century when the Mongol invaded Myanmar, the westerners who professed Christianity serving, in the Mongol army reached Bagan. The mural paintings in Bagan period show the arrival of chaplains who ministered the westerners. Soon after Vasco de Gama had discovered the sea route to India in 1497, Pope Alexander passed the Bull in which the Portuguese took the charge in evangelizing the peoples, inhabiting in the oriental countries including Myanmar. This paper was based on the sources in Myanmar and English and a field trip made to the Churches. This research paper will give those who learn history on how the chaplains struggled for the spread of their religion. The early Catholic chaplains who arrived in Myanmar were seen not to be successful in founding the Catholicism in Myanmar.
Aim — To understand the chaplains who faced the dangers and difficulties for the spread of Catholic Sasana in Myanmar and to evaluate the failure of their activities in converting the natives into their religion before Nyaungyan Period.
Introduction — In 1497, Vasco da Gama’s discovery of sea route to India opened the commercial and diplomatic relations between the East and the West. With the flourishing of trade, the Westerners especially Portuguese adventurers and traders came to the East for their gains. When the Pope’s authority was at height in Europe, the papacy at Vatican sent the bishops and chaplains to unknown countries in order to convert the heathen into their faith. So, the chaplains who ministered to the Portuguese traders and adventurers in their journey came to the East. However, the chaplains who reached Myanmar before Nyaungyan Period merely introduced the Christianity to the people inhabited in Myanmar.
Research Questions — 1) Why did the Myanmar kings accept the Westerners especially Portuguese, Dutch, French and British? 2) What was the Myanmar monarch’s religious toleration? 3) Why were the early chaplains unsuccessful in their evangelistic effort in Myanmar?
Literature Review — There are many papers on arrival of the Roman Catholic Churches in Burma (Myanmar), arrival of Europeans in Burma from Journal of Burma Research Society, books which aimed to the spread of Christianity published by the Christian Churches, Chronicles of Taung-U, the Great Chronicles written by U Kala, Royal Order of Burma compiled by Dr. Than Tun, Myanmar historian and other research papers and history of Burmese Nationalism and Christianity for Ph.D (dissertation). It is found that in most of these papers and books the arrival of Roman Catholicism in Myanmar is assessed in view with the political, economic and military affairs. However, the early chaplains and the priests merely introduced their faith to the natives, inhabited in Myanmar. Their attempt for the spread of the Catholicism in Myanmar was in vain due to the local peoples who profoundly professed Buddhism and animism. Later, the Christian missionary efforts were seen to be considerably successful due to the Myanmar monarchs’ religious toleration towards them. In addition, the then Myanmar monarchs looked to the development of the country with their help. Therefore, today Christianity, Islam and other religions remain in Myanmar due to the Myanmar monarchs’ religious toleration.
Findingd and Discussion — The commercial and diplomatic relations accelerated between the East and the West after the Portuguese conquest of Goa in India in the 16th century. The crusade wars which broke out between the Christian and Muslim in the 11st and 12nd usually had put an impact on the Papacy. Although the crusade war was over, the Popes who were appointed through ages wanted to spread their faith in many corners of the East where the Muslim religion had already been firmly established. However, the turning point took place in 1947 when Vasco da Gama, Portuguese adventurer discovered the sea lane to India around the Good Hope in South Africa. The sailing to India from Europe resurrected Papacy dreams do come true. Coincidently, Portuguese controlled Goa, India and many archipelagos in Indian Ocean soon after the discovery of sea lane to India.2 Therefore, the chaplains accompanied by the Portuguese adventurers, traders and mercenaries came to the East to diffuse their faith there. In the field of literature review, the five key factors will be presented on the arrival of early Catholic chaplains in Myanmar.##