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Lone convert from Bhutan became priest thanks to Mother Teresa

By chance a young convert to Catholicism from Bhutan who was wrestling with the idea of a calling to the priesthood once found himself seated on a airplane next to Mother Teresa, who took his hands and said: “You have a vocation, so be generous to God, and He will be generous to you.”

[Jesuit Father Kinley Tshering is the current provincial of Darjeeling in India, and, so far as anyone knows, the lone Bhutanese convert to Catholicism. A landlocked country in south Asia nestled between China and India, Bhutan has a population that’s two-thirds Buddhist and one-third Hindu, with everyone else accounting for less than one percent of the country’s roughly 750,000 people.

Tshering discovered his vocation to the Catholic priesthood when he found himself sitting next to Mother Teresa of Calcutta on an airplane, and he shared his story with Crux.]

It was in 1986 and I was returning from Hyderabad after attending a Bottlers Conference. I had finished my MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, and was taking care of a Parle Franchise in Bhutan for three years. [Parle is an Indian brand known for its line of biscuits.]

I converted to Catholicism in 1974 as a school boy at St. Joseph’s School, North Point, Darjeeling, one of the best boarding schools in India. After my schooling in Darjeeling, I went to St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore, and then to St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, for my graduation. I went back to Bangalore to complete my Post-graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM), also at the Indian Institute of Management.

Since my conversion, I had always a desire to be a priest. However, my studies here and there, family pressures, and my own personal lifestyle did not help me to make a definitive decision. The many priests I had as my spiritual fathers always encouraged me to wait, and one even suggested that I get married since I was the only Catholic from Bhutan so that the Church could grow there.

However, since I had that lurking desire to be a priest, I began to pray to God to give me a sign. I remember praying that you don’t have to give me a sign like to Teresa of  the Child Jesus by giving snow in summer, but a decent sign so that I have no doubt.

On a Sunday morning when the Church bell ran in Hyderabad, I went to Mass since it was close to the hotel. I prayed for a sign. That night, on an evening flight to Calcutta, I was looking forward to meeting a girlfriend, but the plane was delayed due to a VIP arrival. I was slightly annoyed, but my mood changed instantly when I saw Mother Teresa enter and sit right next to me in the front aisle.

My heart was pounding, and I held my breath! The plane took off, and Mother did not even say a word to me or acknowledge me. She was deep in prayer, and, after what seemed like an eternity, she turned to me and asked where I was from.

I told her from Darjeeling, and she was delighted and recounted to me her days with the Sisters of Loretto there. When I told her actually I am from Bhutan and that I am a Catholic, she was very curious.  I told her that I am a convert, and, before long, I was pouring out the angst of my heart to her – not only my desire to be a priest, but all the temptations that I was having.

She took my hand and said, “I have not told this to many people, but I am telling you. You have a vocation, so be generous to God, and He will be generous to you.”

My eyes were filled with tears, and I cried all the way to Calcutta filled with joy. I asked God for a miracle to affirm my vocation, and God sent me an angel, just like to Mother Mary. I had nothing else to say but, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it done to me according to your word.”

A few months later I joined the Jesuit Novitiate at Mount Carmel, Kurseong. In 1995, after my ordination, I went to Calcutta to meet Mother. The first thing she said to me was, “I have been praying for you for the last ten years.”

By Father Kinley Tshering


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