Mother Teresa inspired Bhutan’s first Catholic priest
Bhutan’s first Catholic priest recently recollected how Blessed Mother Teresa influenced his decision to be a priest and how his own Buddhist mother helped him to be proud of his vocation.
A chance encounter with Mother Teresa on a plane inspired Kinley Tshering, a Bhutanese born into a devout Buddhist family, to become a Catholic priest. Father Kinley Tshering was already converted during his school days.
Bhutan’s first Catholic priest recently recollected how Blessed Mother Teresa influenced his decision to be a priest, how his own Buddhist mother helped him to be proud of his vocation and the change the new democratic constitution of Bhutan has brought about.
Tshering studied in some of the best academic institutions in India – St. Joseph's School in Darjeeling, St. Joseph's College in Bangalore, St. Xavier's College in Mumbai before earning an MBA from IIM Bangalore.
He had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1974, while in Class 9. He had a desire and felt the call to be a priest even at that age. The many priests he had as spiritual fathers, however, told him to wait. One even suggested that he live a married life so that the Church could grow in Bhutan, where he was the only Catholic. However, he began praying, asking God for a sign on whether he should become a priest or get married.
Then in 1986, while Tshering was in charge of food and beverage maker Parle’s franchise in Bhutan he attended a bottlers’ conference in Hyderabad. Even on the Sunday of his return, he prayed at Mass for a sign to help him decide. His evening flight to Kolkata was delayed for a VIP. He was annoyed at the delay but his mood changed when he discovered the VIP was Mother Teresa who sat right next to him in the flight.
The Mother was deep in prayer for what seemed like eternity. Finally, she turned to him and started a conversation.
She was delighted to know that Tshering was from Darjeeling and recounted her days at Loreto in Darjeeling. When he told her that he was from Bhutan and that he was a Catholic, she was very curious. He told her of his desire to become a priest and the doubts he had.
“She took my hand and said: ‘I have not told this to many people: You have a vocation; be generous to God and He will be generous to you.’ My eyes were filled with tears and I cried in joy, all the way to Calcutta. I asked God for a miracle to affirm my vocation, God sent me an angel,” said Father Tshering.
His choice to be a Catholic priest created a difficult situation for his Buddhist family. Yet his beloved mother came to see him off at the Jesuit novitiate at Mount Carmel at Kurseong. Her tremendous love for her son allowed her to forget the paradox of a Buddhist mother allowing her son to become a Catholic monk.
Two weeks later, she was again at the novitiate. Finding him happy, she went back convinced that her son had made the right choice. She sent him a message: "Never turn back on your decision".
Accompanied by her daughters, she was at her son’s ordination. She told the people at the ordination: "Nine years ago I finished shedding tears and now I rejoice with my son, for he will now serve humankind." His father, a devout Buddhist, did not attend the ordination, but has respected his son’s choices.
His mother advised: “Be a good monk (priest) and do not forget the people, especially the poor.”
“My mother is not a theologian, but I realize that what she taught me as a child are the Christian virtues I cherish as an adult – never forgetting that life is passing and impermanent and what is real is the relentless search for Buddhahood, to be free from all inordinate attachments in our Ignatian vision,” said the Jesuit priest.
After the ordination, Father Tshering went to Calcutta to meet Mother Teresa. The first thing she said to him was, “I have been praying for you for the last ten years”.
“For two years, I received sacraments in secrecy. Today, thanks to the magnanimity of our fourth King who gave us a democratic Constitution, people have the right to practice any religion. Earlier, the few Catholics here were too frightened to attend any religious service. Today we are permitted to have Mass and other liturgical services,” said Father Tshering.