Servant of God Mario Borzaga,
Martyr of Laos
The dream of one called to be a happy man
“I PRAYED, I STUDIED, I DREAMT….”
As an adventure-loving youngster in his native Trent in Italy, Mario loved climbing trees, riding the streets in a bicycle too large for him and walking in the mountains. Growing up in a deeply Christian family environment he experienced an attraction for the priesthood and went to the diocesan minor seminary, of which time he wrote: “I loved Jesus in the sacraments and Mary, I prayed, I studied successfully, I dreamt…”. At the major seminary his love for nature matured in him a sensitive observation of people and things which was expressed in what he regularly wrote in his diary. His fellow-seminarians later spoke about their becoming aware of a developing spiritual depth which was calling Mario to a deeper commitment.
A MISSIONARY DREAM
While listening to a visiting missionary speaking, Mario became aware of his vocation to frontier apostolate as a Missionary Oblate, and that to achieve this it was necessary to cut links with being close to his family and friends. He consequently began his year of novitiate, defining it as “ the year in which we taste our possibilities of total self-giving to the Lord, a year in which we find ourselves renouncing, emptying ourselves completely of ourselves, just as you would empty a bag of refuse, with no regrets, with no complaints.”
A DREAM SHAPED BY SELF-GIVING
During his years of preparation to be a missionary, he had a clear spiritual aim: to become moulded as closely as possible to Christ the Priest, victim and apostle. He wanted to achieve this by means of the Eucharist and Mary Immaculate: the Eucharist as the Bread broken, fruit of the sacrifice on the Cross, that is of love; Mary Immaculate because she gave Jesus to the world, and Mario wanted to imitate her to the point of becoming a missionary like her: as bearer of Christ the Saviour.
After his ordination in 1957 Mario was sent to Laos, one of the world’s poorest countries with a small percentage of Christians. His first year was difficult and was spent in the backwater of the mission. He was unable to communicate with the people, struggled to learn the local language, and was unable to exercise his priestly ministry fully, leading him to express feelings of being useless: “My cross is myself, I am cross to myself. My cross is the language which I do not manage to learn. My cross is my timidity which prevents me from saying one word in Laotian”. Here he received a taste of the difficulties of being a foreign missionary, but in it he sought the presence of God: “Everything is yours, even discomfort, anguish, remorse, darkness….I love you because you are Love”
Eventually, at 26 years of age, he received responsibility for his first mission station. The demands here were superior to his forces: looking after those who had already been converted to Christianity, apostolate to those who were far away, learning a new language, running a training school for new catechists, and queues of sick people to be looked after every day. The challenges were difficult, and Mario experienced the weight of this responsibility. Instead of giving in, he was able to find in his great love for Jesus the necessary strength to continue to believe that he was in this place because it was where God wanted him to be: “We missionaries are made in this way: to leave is normal, to move is a necessity; tomorrow the roads will be our houses; if we will be forced to stop temporarily in one house, we will transform it into a road to God.”
His brief existence - he was never to reach his 28th birthday - came to an end in the solitude of the forest, along a track in the mountainside, while he was returning from an apostolic journey with his catechist, Shiong. They were put to death by a group of communist guerrillas, thus interrupting for ever on this earth, the marvellous dream of this young missionary.
“I have understood my vocation:
to be a happy man,
even in the effort to identify myself
with the Crucified Christ”
(Written just before pronouncing his perpetual vows in 1956)
BORZAGA, M., Verso la felicità - la mia scelta di sacerdote missionario, Città Nuova 1986
BORZAGA, M., Diario di un uomo felice - un’esperienza missionaria nel Laos, Città Nuova 1985
BORZAGA, L., To be a Happy Man - Mario Borzaga, O.M.I. 1932-1960, Oblate Heritage Series, number 4, Rome 1992
CIARDI, F., Il Sogno e la realtà - Mario Borzaga, martire, Ancora 2000,