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Former Burma prisoner of conscience ordained as priest

The first Solemn Mass of newly ordained Fr James Mawdsley (John Aron)

A human rights activist who was jailed for over a year in Myanmar has been ordained as a Catholic priest.

Fr James Mawsdley was freed in 2000 after 415 days spent in solitary confinement.

Fr Mawdsley was sentenced to serve 17 years in Insein jail for protesting against the Burmese government’s slaughter of ethnic minorities.

He was released after his family’s consistent campaign efforts.

Fr Mawdsley claims to have had a difficult time whilst incarcerated; at one point sustaining a broken nose and two black eyes after a severe beating from one of his guards.

The Lancashire-born activist said he survived his imprisonment – in which was only allowed to leave his cell for 20 minutes a day – through his faith. In an article for the Daily Telegraph in 2008, Fr Mawdsley recalled: “The greatest help came from Christ. The Crucifixion makes sense of suffering. Jesus turned my misery into joy, even in that earthly hell, Insein prison.”

A Bible and missal were the only two objects Fr Mawdsley was permitted to keep in his cell.

The plight of the Burmese Karen tribe was revealed to Fr Mawdsley on a chance encounter with some refugees whilst he was in New Zealand. After hearing their stories of genocide, he decided to go to Myanmar to see the situation for himself. He was deported from the country twice before facing his jail sentence.

After his release, Fr Mawdsley wrote The Heart Must Break: The Fight for Democracy and Truth in Burma about his experience in prison and The Iron Road: A Stand for Truth and Democracy in Burma about the political climate in Myanmar.

Fr Mawdsley’s first Mass took place at the start of July in Bavaria. He is now assigned to the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter in Warrington as Assistant to Fr Armand de Malleray.