Friday, June 26, 2009

Father Paolo Abbona

Colesworthy Grant (1813-1880)
Father Paolo Abbona 1855
From 'A Series of Views in Burmah taken during Major Phayre’s Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855'
Watercolour with pen and ink
316 x 222mm
The British Library, London

Father Paolo Abbona (1806-1874) was a Roman Catholic Oblate missionary priest from Piedmont. Two of his brothers were also priests.

At the time of this drawing he was the priest at the Roman Catholic chapel at Umeerapoora in Burma. He had also established a school there.

He was in Burma from 1839 to 1873

He had the confidence of the King of Burma (King Mindon) and acted for the King in delicate diplomatic matters.

Father Abbona told Grant that he occasionally received royal pecuniary aid and that he was convinced that if the King were once brought to believe in the truths of Christianity, he would not hesitate to become a Christian

The artist Grant was part of a British mission to Burma after the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852 and the annexation by the British of the Burmese province of Pegu (Bago). The mission was to attempt to persuade the King to sign a Treaty acknowledging the extension of British rule over the province.

In his long time in the Far East, Father Abbona built many schools and churches, factories and hospitals. He even helped to draw up the Treaty of Friendship between Burma and The Kingdom of Italy

He introduced the cultivation of the vine into the country.

As an explorer and geographer he helped open the Bammò Road between Tibet and China.

He has been described as the greatest Oblate missionary.

Before setting out for Burma, he was received in private audience by the Pope in Rome. The Pope was Gregory XVI. The audience lasted less than 30 minutes. He questioned Abbona about his vocation. He spoke of the persecution in Tonkin and asked the priest if he was ready to be martyred. The Pope said that they must accept whatever God should mete out.

He gave him a silver medallion, the triple blessing and the faculty of indulgence.

Father Abbona only returned to Italy in December 1873 to take back some Burmese students to study in Italy. He was also in Rome to defend himself against charges levelled against him by the Catholic Bishop of South Burma of going outwith his authority.

He saw the Prefect of Propaganda and had a private audience with Pope Pius IX on 18th December 1873. Interestingly one of the subjects which they discussed was the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary. In his Note of the meeting Father Abbona wrote:

“Speaking about the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, I recalled that some add “and of St. Joseph”. Today – 18 December 1873 – the Pope said to me that this is an abuse; one should not depict the Heart of St. Joseph; devotion to the Heart of Saint Joseph is not approved by the Church. The Pope himself told me this today.”

He returned home for what he thought was to be a short visit. However in his home area he became seriously ill and died. He is buried in Boves.