The Xavierian nun talks about her missionary experience in Thailand. She heads a facility for seriously disabled children and their mothers set up in 2008 by Sister Maria Angela Bertelli. In Thailand, Sister Eudoxie notes, “a disability is considered a punishment caused by the parents’ faults or things the children did in previous lives.”
Pak Kret (AsiaNews) – Sister Eudoxie Colette Ngongo Banunu spoke to AsiaNews about her journey of faith of the past five years ago, which led her to work among Thailand’s poor and marginalised, almost 9,000 kilometres from her homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Together with disabled children from the House of Angels in Pak Kret, she attended Pope Francis’s historic apostolic visit to the South-East Asian country. What follows is the second part of her story. For the first part, click here.
Evangelising through charity is the goal of a facility for the seriously disabled headed by Sister Eudoxie, a Xavierian missionary in Thailand, where a handicap is seen as a stigma and conversion as a betrayal, in culture that does not help to live the faith.
After spending her childhood at a mission in Congo, Sister Eudoxie discovered the faith and eventually chose to consecrate herself to a religious life. She arrived in Thailand in 2014, a country open, she notes, to all religions that speak of goodness, peace and harmony.
"There are no barriers to our missionary work, as long as it is within the confines of government concessions and is non-political. We give thanks to God for this,” she explains.
"The charisma of Xavierian women is the proclamation of the Good News to those who do not yet know Jesus, so all the activities that others see us do are aimed at this. Each meeting offers the opportunity to talk about Our Lord and the Christian identity.”
In 2017, Sister Eudoxie took charge of the charity set up by Sister Maria Angela Bertelli, a Xavierian pioneer who arrived in Thailand in 2000 to work among Bangkok’s slumdwellers. Trained as physiotherapist, the foundress treated and cared for marginalised disabled people. Aided by some volunteers who came to Thailand to help her, and thanks to donations from Caritas Venice, she established the House of Angels in Ban Mai in 2008 (pictured).
The facility caters to children with severe disabilities. It allows mothers to play a role in treatment, and offers young patients medical assistance and educational support. The Xavierian nuns who founded the House will turn it over to the Pope John XXIII Community on 29 January 2020, but will continue to work there.
"In this country,” Sister Eudoxie notes, “a disability is considered a punishment caused by the parents’ faults or things the children did in previous lives. This leads to discrimination and scorn. The aim of the House of Angels is to evangelise through charity. Every morning, Monday through Saturday, we start the day by sharing the Word of God.
"On Sunday, patients and volunteers take part instead in the Mass at the nearby parish of Mary Mother of Mercy, run by priests from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), with whom we also collaborate in teaching the catechesis. Everyone takes part in the service: Catholics, Buddhists and non-believers.
“Everyone is welcomed at the House of Angels regardless of their religion. There is no proselytising, but living together for years has led many mothers to ask for baptism. Meeting leads to talking, and through the latter one discovers the merciful God about whom we speak, the one who forgives us for he is our Father.”
Culturally, in a country like Thailand, the Sisters’ work and commitment at the Ban Mai centre and in the slums leaves no one indifferent. The nuns offer courses designed to teach social and human skills inspired by the Gospel.
“Some people respond with admiration,” Sister Eudoxie notes. “They ask us the reasons for our interest in people who live in situations of such great distress. This gives us the opportunity to talk about ourselves and stir some interest in the Church.”
“Others interpret our action from a Buddhist perspective. They might say: ‘If they are taking care of these children, it is perhaps because they have a really bad karma and have to pay for it!’ in Thai tradition, doing something for nothing and mercy do not exist: the rule is ‘do good to receive it back’. By helping people, one acquires merit. At the same time, they wonder: ‘Did you make a mistake? You must be paying for your faults.”
How difficult is it to talk about Christ in Thailand? "A Buddhist has no problem in believing that God became human: in his tradition, there are many figures who are daughters of divinities. The crux of the matter is to understand that someone offers his life for others as Jesus did, for our sins, to free us from them and redeem us for divine life.
“All this is inconceivable to Buddhists. Everyone is called to save themselves, making offerings and acquiring merits. When I speak of Christ, I always start from the concept that He is love. I explain that Jesus came into the world to bring us back to the house of a Father who is ever waiting for us, despite the negative things we may have done.
“We use simple words to explain difficult topics, but we are counting on Grace to make people understand them. Sometimes words are not useful, but the most urgent thing is to bear witness to the faith every day through our life and the activities in which we are involved. Hardships are common, yet the Lord has guided us and supported us. He is the one carrying out the mission.”
According to the Xavierian nun, "We live in a society in which Buddhist culture and tradition do not help us live the faith. Being Christian here requires a lot of efforts. Conversion is seen as a betrayal, and lead to exclusion from a whole series of rituals and ceremonies that mark every Thai’s daily life. Yet, our brothers and sisters in Thailand march on, in the image of those who passed on the faith to them over the past 350 years.
“If the Catholic Church is still present in the country, it is thanks to people who were able to resist with courage. In light of all this, I am sure that Pope Francis' apostolic visit will breathe new life into the mission in Thailand.
“In recent days, one can sense a renewed fervour among Christians. It was as if the community in Bangkok had returned to the early years of the Church, when the small distant churches were preparing for a visit from Peter or Paul.
“Thai Catholics want to get out of the shadow, assert their identity and talk about their faith. With the whole universal Church, the Holy Father brought a fraternal wind. This trip will bear much fruit.”