As a young priest he wrote of himself: “Fr Mario Borzaga was born at Trent in 1932. No official information is available concerning his childhood. He left the diocesan Seminary for the Oblate Novitiate in 1952. He plays the piano, preferring Chopin, Bach, Grieg, Dvorak, together with other minor composers. He smokes only “Aurora”. He lived at Trent at No. 18 Via Gorizia. He is alive.” This short paragraph is light-hearted but the life of the author was deep.
Fr Mario called his diary, the “Diary of a Happy Man.” He started it in 1956, four years before his death. It is interesting how he remembered the moment when he started thinking about joining the Oblates: “I was doing my supplementary exam in philosophy; it is an important enough date, because I remember that in the evening I drank a few too many glasses of wine, and so, having gone to bed at about eleven thirty with my temples hammering, me remorse for my excesses made me promise to love Jesus with a “torrential” love, and as a first act of reparation, the glimmerings of the idea to become an Oblate.”
I don’t know what kind of wine he drank that night but if I would purchase a few hundred bottles to distribute them across Australia so that it could have a similar impact on more young men here. There is no doubt that it wasn’t a dream of a drunkard because Mario followed that inspiration. He was so serious about becoming an Oblate that his Rector and Spiritual Director from the Diocesan Seminary supported his desire. The prayer he prayed every day after receiving Holy Communion started bearing fruits. In the prayer for many years he kept asking to be: “Priest, Apostle, Missionary…”
As his formation with the Oblates continued he arrived at making the decision to take his final vows as an OMI. He wrote then: “I have understood my vocation: TO BE A HAPPY MAN, even in the effort of identifying myself with the crucified Christ.” On the vigil of the vows he wrote: “I know exactly what death means, and I know that in onerous, but if Life flowers from death, I will die every day from dawn to dusk, drawing strength from the Bread who is Victim, that is the Sacrament of Love, of Suffering, of the Will of the Father, and from that I will draw the strength to love, to suffer, to do the Will of the Father.”
Next year when he was ordained a priest he wrote after his first Mass: “His Blood gushed from my hands onto altar, and his Body was born as from the Virgin’s womb; as she was there too. This morning I had thought of asking of Christ, born through me, the grace of a sure martyrdom, of the apostolate, of preaching and of a fruitful ministry. Instead I asked to observe always to perfection the Rule of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. This grace has been granted from today – what was required was the Sacrifice of the altar.”
After his ordination Mario is sent to Laos, one of the world’s poorest countries with a small percentage of Christians. His first year was difficult and was spent in the backwater of the mission. He was unable to communicate with the people, struggled to learn the local language, and was unable to exercise his priestly ministry fully, leading him to express feelings of being useless: “My cross is myself, I am cross to myself. My cross is the language which I do not manage to learn. My cross is my timidity which prevents me from saying one word in Laotian”. Here he received a taste of the difficulties of being a foreign missionary, but in it he sought the presence of God: “Everything is yours, even discomfort, anguish, remorse, darkness….I love you because you are Love”
Despite the difficulties he was entrusted with the mission in Kiu Kacham. It was up to Mario to build and develop the community. He took up this task with all his. Teaching catechism, initiating people to prayer, visiting families, welcoming the ill who daily came to the door of the mission house which had a small dispensary, these were the things on which Mario spent his time and energy. He also wanted to reach out further, to those that the Gospel had not yet reached. But if security in the village was relatively assured, it was not the same outside of the town.
On Sunday, April 24, 1960, after Mass, a small group of Hmong arrived requesting him to go to their place. Mario decided to take advantage of the situation, for there were two priests with him who, had come there for the Easter holidays. There was not much discussion it seems, for Mario was a man of decision. He promised to go with them the next day. On Monday Fr Mario accompanied by his catechist set out for what to be his final mission. Those who were present saw him leave, sack on his back, beret on his head, dressed entirely in black like a Hmong. Hardly several hundred meters away he disappeared at the bend in the road to plunge into the bush. On leaving, he simply said: "In a fortnight, at Luang Prabang". But he and his catechist were never to be seen again. What happened? The investigation, undertaken after it became evident he had disappeared, yielded nothing certain. It is only known that he had indeed arrived at the village as planned, cared for the sick there, and then left with the catechist. After that there was no trace of them. He was 27. Only 40 years later it was confirmed that the two men had been killed by local warriors. For years Fr Mario prayed after Holy Communion to be “priest, apostle, missionary, martyr.” The Lord granted this wish.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Rosary, October 7, 2006, Mario’s home Diocese of Trent opened the local stage of the process for the canonization of the young missionary who described himself a happy man. The first stage of the process will be declaring him a blessed. Blessed means simply happy. What a coincidence!
In his short biography he said of himself: “Fr Mario Borzaga is alive! We know what he meant by that: He was a happy man because he lived his short life with Christ the Lord.