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‘I am a person with great hope’: Meet the Church’s only Bhutanese priest

Fr. Kinley Tshering is the world’s first — and so far only — Bhutanese Catholic priest.

The Jesuit priest serves a community of 100 converts in the kingdom nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, between India and China.

Fr. Kinley Tshering, S.J. Screenshot from @nithildennis2776 YouTube channel.

In Bhutan, a country with a population of fewer than 800,000 people, deviation from the majority religion of Buddhism is frowned upon. 

The Pillar talked with Fr. Kinley during World Youth Day in Lisbon.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Are you Bhutanese, or a missionary?

I am pure Bhutanese!

Are you the first Bhutanese priest?

I am the first and the only priest in Bhutan — at the moment, that is. I am a person with great hope. I hope that in the coming years we will have more priests.

Do you think that having a delegation at World Youth Day could inspire more Bhutanese to serve the Church? 

I really hope so. I hope that the youth of Bhutan will be inspired to see hundreds of thousands of young people, to realize that they are not alone, they are part of the universal Church. 

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Were you born into a Catholic family, or did you convert?

All the Catholics in Bhutan are converts.

How did you come to the Church?

I came to be a Catholic by reading. In our country, there is no Christian symbolism, no crosses, no literature, nothing. But I happened to chance upon a Christmas card, and that was my entry point. 

I was curious about that little baby, and then, as I grew up, I realized that the little baby was the man on the Cross, and that is how my faith kept growing, and then I realized that he not only died, but he rose again... Such a wonderful story!

The Christian story, and the life of Jesus, are so magnificent that, even if it weren’t true, it would still be worth living for.

Pope Francis is traveling to Mongolia this year and has been to countries that nobody expected to ever receive a papal visit. Do you have hope that there might one day be a papal visit to Bhutan?

Absolutely! Maybe not in the next 100 years, but one day I am sure the pope will come to Bhutan as well. 

Fr. Kinley Tshering, S.J., with Yeshi and Jivan, fellow members of Bhutan’s delegation to World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Filipe D’Avillez/Pillar Media

Is there any coverage of WYD in Bhutan because of your group?

No, I don’t think so, and I don’t think they would like to do that. 

Is there hostility towards you, or difficulties in practicing your faith?

We are not too bad. Our king is wonderful, and well educated, and he understands the world of today.

Unlike in many countries, we are not persecuted openly, but at the same time, the king says that we should keep our culture together, that since we are a small country, to survive we must be one. So, the challenge for us is to be Christians in our own culture. There is a lot of cultural dialogue. 

Is it a challenge to show that you can be both a patriotic Bhutanese and still be a Christian?

Absolutely! In fact, I was joking with a boy in Bhutan, saying that if tomorrow I were to play football for Bhutan against Pope Francis playing for Argentina, I would make sure he loses.

Are you a diocesan priest or part of a religious order?

I am a Jesuit. That’s why I talk so much.

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