Brother Prem Bhai, a Benedictine missionary who endured repeated arrest, imprisonment, beatings and wore disguises to evangelize in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, died on June 28 in Colombo, Sri Lanka after suffering a heart attack the previous day.
For almost 25 years Brother Prem’s missionary work in Arunachal Pradesh continued despite government laws that subjected those caught to fines of 10,000 rupees and two years imprisonment.
“Police always used to follow me. I was arrested eight times and imprisoned five times for preaching. I never stayed in jail for more than a day though – the Christian people always managed to get me released,” Brother Prem said in a 2006 interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). ACN supported Brother Prem’s work by building a prayer center.
On three occasions the missionary was beaten by locals for preaching and baptizing.
He and his fellow missionaries would sometimes disguise themselves to enter Arunachal Pradesh.
“We would enter the province dressed as a carpenter, a farmer, a butcher. Often we would walk more than 100 kilometers to a village, through the mountains and the snow. We gathered the people in the villages at night. We would preach to them and then quickly move on,” he told ACN.
The work of Brother Prem and other missionaries bore such fruit that Christians now make up more than 55 percent of the people in Arunachal Pradesh, with many being doctors, lawyers, engineers, or members of the local government. Fifty priests in the state serve about 210,000 faithful, who are very active in the Church.
The state law prohibiting the preaching of Christianity still exists, but the spread of Christianity has rendered it obsolete.
Many have eulogized the Benedictine brother.
A priest in India, Father Ivan Vas, SVD, said Brother Prem was a “great missionary.”
Marie-Ange Siebrecht, Aid to the Church in Need’s India projects co-coordinator said: “He was a very special person. All his life was dedicated to spreading the Gospel in Arunachal Pradesh.”
The missionary’s Requiem Mass was planned to be celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, while Bishop Michael Akasius of Tezpur was to say the final rites over Brother Prem’s remains.