THOUGH danger is never far from Fr Silas Bogati in his ministry in Nepal, he’s a laid back if intensely focused man.
Unflinchingly, he describes a narrow escape from a bomb blast which killed three parishioners and injured 14 others when he was celebrating Mass in the Assumption Church, Nepal, in 2009.
The reasons for such commitment become clear as this priest, who is also the executive director of Caritas Nepal, talks of the fruits of his work – the improvement in the lives of his people through farmer training schools and the building of Catholic schools to ensure the education of the young.
The joy on the face of this priest of 11 years is also evident as he tells of a great blessing due this Easter.
Fr Bogati, the parish priest of the cathedral parish of Kathmandu, will be baptising his Hindu parents – his mother Khaumya, 65, and his father Sher, 71 – into the Catholic faith.
His own conversion to the faith began many years ago in Kathmandu when he left his native village as a nine-year-old boy to board alone in that city to improve his chances of a good education.
“These are some more of the jigsaw puzzle pieces in my life that are falling into place even at this moment,” he explains as he sits with a fruit juice in a Wynnum café.
The next time I saw him after our conversation was on a stage in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall on Ash Wednesday at the launch of Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion.
Again that serenity shone through. It was also at the launch that the consul general of Nepal Michael Wille publicly thanked Fr Bogati on behalf of the Nepalese Government for his “enormous contribution” to the wellbeing of that country’s people.
Back at the Wynnum café several days earlier, Fr Bogati was turning in his hands “the jigsaw puzzle pieces” which have made up his life before placing them back together to give the big picture.
He starts his story as a nine-year-old from a Hindu family leaving his Nepalese Ghurka village for an education at a government school in Kathmandu, then a city of 2 million people.
“I was sent to live in a private boarding house … My dad would sometimes send me some money to keep me going,” he said.
“I had to do my own cooking … There was nobody else around to do it for me.”
He smiles at the question of his favourite recipe from that time.
“Let’s say rice and lentil soup was on the menu quite often,” he said.
By 18 he had finished high school and, perhaps inevitably, became alienated from his family.
He succumbed to some of the temptations of Kathmandu, at that stage an iconic destination on the late 1970s hippie trail.
“But as a kid I always dreamt about doing something different with my life and frequently prayed about this,” Fr Bogati said.
“I believe God was really listening to me and wanted to work with me in my life.”
When he was 19 his life took a dramatic turn.
“I was walking along the road one day when I met someone, a Protestant man, who told me about Jesus,” Fr Bogati said.
“He gave me a pamphlet and I came to talk to this man some more.
“Through him I came to know God, Jesus and the Bible.”
John 3:16 particularly resonated for this priest-to-be: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“The message of love attracted me,” Fr Bogati said.
“This knowledge was a turning point in my life.
“After several years, when I was in India and through some of my friends who were Catholic, I got to meet some of the priests there.
“I was immediately impressed by the dedication of these priests – by the fact they were not married and were giving their whole life to the Church.
“The fact they were giving help to others less fortunate also really attracted me.”
At the age of 27, he approached the Jesuit superior in the region and asked if he could join.
However, more attracted to parish work, he ultimately became a diocesan priest.
Meanwhile, as a Catholic convert, life was becoming increasingly interesting in a country where the predominant religion is Hinduism and Catholics represent 0.03 per cent (about 7000) of the 28 million-plus population.
“Not long after I became a Catholic I was kidnapped by a Hindu group who were going to reconvert me,” Fr Bogati said.
He smiles. “Their attempts lasted a couple of hours. Then they let me go.
“I think they realised I was going to be too much work for them.”
In 2000 he was ordained and in 2002, soon after taking over the parish of Kathmandu, he also moved into the closely linked role of executive director of Caritas Nepal.
Politically, life in Nepal had been turbulent.
A decade-long conflict left an estimated 14,000 dead and about 200,000 people displaced.
In 2006, a peace agreement was signed between Maoist guerrillas and an alliance of seven political parties with the understanding that a new constitution would be signed in 2008.
Various elements have become increasingly frustrated as this fails to occur.
The Catholic Church, a large external organisation, provides a visible target for such frustration.
It was one of the radical Hindu fringe groups that carried out a deadly attack on Kathmandu’s Assumption Church in May 2009.
But if the assailants expected the bombing to stop the Church’s activities they would have been sadly disappointed.
“Being so close to death helped many of us to realise we’ve all got to die one day,” Fr Bogati said quite calmly.
“We were thinking – it could have been me who died.
“Not long after, we started three more missions close to the Chinese border and are now in the process of buying more land.
“We are also opening more schools … the quality education Catholic schools can provide gives better access to the community in these areas.”
Separate to this mission, is Fr Bogati’s work with Caritas which is mainly focused on educating farmers in Nepal to make better use of their meagre land holdings.
In partnership with Caritas Australia, the Nepalese branch of the international organisation has assisted an estimated 12,000 farmers.
It was this support which had led Fr Bogati to visit Australia and give a first-hand account of the many ways in which Caritas Australia appeals such as Project Compassion were helping his people.
“I have been saying that whatever support the people of Australia can give, no matter how small, it goes a long way to help our people in Nepal,” he said.
This was the same message I got to hear several days later when Fr Bogati stood to give a speech at the launch of Project Compassion.
It was also another piece of the jigsaw puzzle he was so lovingly assembling in honour of the God he loves and serves.