July 2, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Fr. Martin Ma Na Ling lies prostrate during his Mass of Ordination on July 2, 2022 at the Owensboro Sportscenter in Owensboro, Ky. His ordination took place during the July 1-4, 2022 National Conference of Burmese-American Catholics. RILEY GREIF | WKC

Approximately 1,700 gather for ordination of Burmese priest in western Kentucky

BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC

When Bishop William F. Medley was ordained the bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro 12 years ago, “I had never heard of Myanmar,” he said at the July 2, 2022 ordination of Fr. Martin Ma Na Ling – the second Myanmar-born seminarian to be ordained a priest in the United States.

Bishop Medley said his 2010 episcopal ordination took place the same Owensboro Sportscenter that that morning was hosting Catholics of Myanmar heritage who were gathered for Fr. Ma Na Ling’s ordination and for the weekend’s National Catholic Burmese-American Conference. (Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country, is also known as Burma.)

Bishop William F. Medley ordains Fr. Martin Ma Na Ling on July 2, 2022 at the Owensboro Sportscenter in Owensboro, Ky. The ordination took place during the July 1-4, 2022 National Conference of Burmese-American Catholics. RILEY GREIF | WKC

The bishop could never have predicted the celebration drawing approximately 1,700 Burmese Catholics to nourish their faith and participate in the historic ordination. And yet, he could not be more pleased to welcome the attendees to Owensboro.

“It brings us great joy here in Kentucky to see our faith celebrated by the people of Myanmar who have come here to make the U.S. your home,” said the bishop.

Western Kentucky is home to a significant number of refugees from Myanmar, according to the Kentucky Office for Refugees, a department of Catholic Charities of Louisville. According to Catholic Charities, between 2015 and 2019 a total of 849 arrivals from Myanmar came to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and a total of 460 arrivals from Myanmar came to Owensboro.

The bishop expressed his gratitude to all who were attending in-person, including a number of Burmese priests currently serving in the U.S. who had traveled to Owensboro for the weekend.

“Thank you,” said Bishop Medley. “You are genuine missionaries to our nation.”

He also welcomed Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho of the Diocese of Pyay, Myanmar, who had flown in for the celebrations. Unfortunately, due to multiple circumstances beyond their control, others who wanted to attend – including Fr. Ma Na Ling’s parents – were unable to leave Myanmar for the ordination.

Addressing all who were watching the ordination via livestream, Bishop Medley told them his prayers were with them amid the ongoing sociopolitical turmoil of Myanmar.

He directly addressed Fr. Ma Na Ling’s parents who were hopefully able to join via livestream, telling them: “Without your faith and love we would not be here today. Your faith was the first seed of his vocation.”

Bishop Medley told the crowd that it was the 2019 diaconate ordination of now-Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than – the first Myanmar-born priest ordained in the U.S. – that showed him the deep faith of Burmese Catholics. This experience was also the motivation for the bishop’s pastoral visit to Myanmar in early 2020 (before the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm).

Turning to the young seminarian, whom he would ordain a priest of the Diocese of Owensboro in a matter of minutes, Bishop Medley told him “Martin, you are a man of joy; you are forever smiling.”

“Many people will come to know Jesus because of your joy,” said Bishop Medley. “By word and example may you build up the house that is God’s Church.”

The bishop also encouraged the young people in crowd to consider the idea of a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life. He suggested that if someone saw a possible vocation in a young person, to let them know.

“Maybe they will not think about this, unless we tell them,” he said.

And to the crowds filling the Sportscenter that morning, he told them “all of you, go therefore, and make disciples.”

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Tina Kasey
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