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 CNS Story:

WYD-MISSING Jul-31-2008 (590 words) xxxi

Myanmarese, Indian church officials report on missing WYD pilgrims

By Catholic News Service

SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) -- A church official from Myanmar has been searching for six of his country's World Youth Day pilgrims who never returned from Australia, while Indian officials have found missing pilgrims in New Zealand.

Father Robert Bya Reh, director of Myanmar's National Catholic Youth Commission, told the Asian church news agency UCA News via e-mail from Sydney July 30 that he managed to contact "only one of the six missing youths" from Myanmar but does not know where that young person is.

Twenty-seven of the 33 Myanmarese delegates to the July 15-20 World Youth Day celebration in Sydney flew back to Yangon July 27, but the others failed to show up for their flight.

Xavier Kyaw Nyunt, president of the Myanmarese youth commission, told UCA News this kind of behavior "is not good for the church and will make it difficult for other youths who want to join in the next WYD" in 2011 in Madrid.

After the World Youth Day program in Germany in 2005, all 20 Myanmarese delegates returned home.

Nyunt said only one of the missing youths has a passport in hand, and Father Bya Reh has the other five passports.

Nyunt said that, prior to the delegates' departure, his commission had cautioned the bishops and youth directors of all 14 dioceses in the country that all delegates must return to Myanmar. Care was taken in the selection of delegates, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar recommended the visa applicants to the Australian Embassy, he added.

One World Youth Day delegate, Ida, who preferred to use just one name, told UCA News July 31, "Although we were together in Sydney, we did not think that the youths who represented our country would go missing there."

Meanwhile, New Zealand officials "have tracked down" the Indian youths who went missing there before World Youth Day, said Father Alwyn D'Souza, secretary of the Indian bishops' youth commission, which coordinated the selection of India's 510-member World Youth Day delegation.

Father D'Souza told UCA News July 26 the missing delegation members were working in groups on various farms in New Zealand.

More than 200 Indians stayed with families in New Zealand for a week as part of an international exposure program before World Youth Day. Organizers realized that 39 of them, housed in Auckland, were missing when they failed to show up for the flight to Sydney July 14. Two of the 39 returned to India July 20.

Father D'Souza said New Zealand officials have contacted the missing youths and have their passports.

"It will be good if these missing people come back before their visas expire" Aug. 7, Father D'Souza said.

He told UCA News that many Indian families in New Zealand own farms, so "these illegal migrants would become cheap laborers for them." But he also said people and authorities in New Zealand "are very vigilant" about "new faces."

Father D'Souza denied claims that procedures to select the participants were faulty. The procedures required that all participants get supporting letters from their parish priest, diocesan youth director and local bishop.

Tirth Bhatti, one of the two who returned to India July 20, told UCA News July 29 that some members of the group misguided him and others, saying they could become legal migrants after their visas expired. After leaving their host homes in Auckland, they lived in rented houses, he said.

Bhatti said he and his companion returned to India after they realized they were doing something illegal.


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